The forecast for the coming winter isn’t looking hopeful: Covid likely is not going away for the holidays.
Cases have at best plateaued for the country as a whole and diagnoses have increased in about half the states. Deaths are up in 17 states. With people headed indoors for the winter months and less than 60% of the population fully vaccinated, it’s a recipe for further spread.
It may be frustrating for people who feel they’ve done all the right things by getting fully vaccinated already, by wearing masks and by avoiding crowds. This should have been the holiday season to enjoy.
But the advice from the experts is pretty simple. 1. Get a booster. 2. Wear a mask.
“I think that’s all you can do,” said Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “You just socialize with people who are of like mind, more than ever.”
It’s important not to give in, Osterholm said. “Pandemic fatigue is winning the war over the gravity of the virus itself,” he said.
Epidemiologist Ali Mokdad of the University of Washington, where teams have been tracking and forecasting the pandemic from the beginning, was horrified to see unmasked crowds at a recent Texas A&M football game on television. “They all ran onto the field,” he said. “No one had a mask on.”
Even in areas with high vaccination rates, enough people are unvaccinated still to allow for the virus to spread. Studies have shown so-called natural immunity doesn’t protect people as well as being vaccinated does, so there is a large pool of people who can still catch and spread the virus.
Which means it is not over for anyone.
“Get a vaccine. Wear a mask,” Mokdad advised.
Public health experts are almost monotonous in their advice.
“I’m worried that the US has hit a plateau at an unacceptably high level – more than 70,000 new daily Covid-19 infections, more than 1,000 daily deaths – especially as we head into colder weather and the holidays. Everyone eligible for boosters should get one,” said Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University.
The FDA has already authorized Covid-19 vaccine boosters for the majority of adults once they’re far enough past their initial doses.
People who got the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines six months ago or longer may get a booster if they are 65 or older; at risk of severe Covid-19 from a breakthrough infection because of a medical condition such as diabetes, kidney disease or pregnancy; or at risk because of living conditions or work.
Anyone who got the Johnson & Johnson shot two months ago or longer is eligible two months after getting their first shot. The J&J vaccine is only authorized for people age 18 and older.
Pfizer has requested FDA authorization for boosters for all adults, and some states are already opening booster eligibility to people 18 and older.
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Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Public Health-Seattle and King County, took to Twitter with advice.
“To minimize risk from future surges: - Must vaccinate more people ASAP, esp. young adults, children - EVERYONE eligible should GET A BOOSTER now. - Continue CoV-19 prevention precautions: masks indoors, ensure good indoor air ventilation/filtration, test & isolate if positive,” he tweeted.
“US vaccination rate = 59%: not high enough. More travel, holiday gatherings will increase transmission,” he added.