Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 – April 21, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 256.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

          Q:  Everyone getting vaccinated is feeling joyous.  But how well are we really doing? 

          A:  We all know that vaccines work.  The more people who get vaccinated, the more they become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s continue to check on how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated Each Week for Past 2 Months on Sundays

 

February 28Average per week for 8 weeksApril 18
8.4%18.6%31.6%
                          – Source: Covid Act Now.com   

 

Vaccination Fact #3: The good news is that as more people get vaccinated, the number who have hesitated to get their shots is diminishing.  The bad news is that as time moves along, the high number of COVID cases tends to produce additional variants, some of which are more infectious, thus increasing the number of cases.

As of last week Sunday, 31.6% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, leaving 68.4% who are not yet fully   vaccinated.

257. No single variable can explain or predict when COVID will fade away.

         Q. If vaccines create immunity, how come the number of COVID cases are rising as the percentage of vaccinated people is increasing?

         A. There are many variables that affect the risk of COVID spreading or the safety of its diminishing over time. One dynamic that has been identified is that once a person gets vaccinated, they feel they can’t catch the disease.  They stop wearing masks, and gather in crowded settings with impunity.  Scientists have yet to determine if a vaccinated person can still be infected and remain asymptomatic.  There is the possibility that an immunized person can still spread the disease to others without ever knowing they are a carrier.  As we explore ways to predict when it will be safe to reopen at UUS:E, we cannot just look at one set of data like the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated.  We also have to look at other data such as the number of tests being given to determine if testing is adequate to identify asymptomatic patients.  No single variable can explain or predict when COVID will drop to an acceptable risk.

258. COVID protection for church religious education is parallel to that for schools

         Q:  Why can’t we open up the church now to give my daughter a chance to go to RE?  After all, the local schools are opening up now!

         A:  Everyone wants to get back to normal, and the sooner the better.  But the challenge is to do this safely.  Local schools are opening up following the detailed requirements issued by CDC.  Key among these requirements is that children have to stay 3 feet away from others and there must be adequate ventilation.  It has taken weeks and months for local schools to rearrange space, enhance the ventilation systems, and make purchases just to get ready. The costs for all this have been extraordinary.  So much so that the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed last month has already sent out $81B to enable schools to reopen. Another $100B is proposed in the upcoming infrastructure legislation to help schools modify their buildings.  At UUS:E, we are not eligible for any of this federal funding.  And we don’t have enough space downstairs for 3 foot spacing for all our eligible participants.  Without sufficient windows, some of our classrooms cannot just let the fresh air in.  Be assured there are many people working to solve these issues.  And to solve the underlying question of when and how we will reopen.  We are doing this by considering science and safety as being paramount.  You will hear more about this effort soon.

259. The planning now underway to project when it will be safe for UUS:E to reopen is tentatively focusing on 5 variables that are scientifically defined and studied

         Q:  How does science figure in calculating when we can reopen?

         A:  The science of infectious diseases control – epidemiology – is based on evaluating the health of communities, the well-being of populations.  This concept of public health differs from medical health of an individual, which everyone who makes appointments to see a doctor is quite familiar.  If someone views vaccinations only as protection for the one who is getting the shot, that is the perspective of individual medical care.  The public health view is to consider the health of the population.  This requires the inconvenience of wearing a mask and keeping social distancing after being vaccinated – not to protect yourself, but to protect others who may not be vaccinated.  After all, you might still be contagious without having any symptoms.

Nationally, a consortium of public health scientists and statisticians has created a formal system to help groups and organizations study making decisions of when it is safe to reopen their organized activities.  This approach is now being reviewed by UUS:E to help create safe and scientifically driven projections.  The consortium recommends several variables to be evaluated and provides the data to help define the risks for reopening.  We have tentatively selected the following 5 variables using Connecticut data to examine:

  • The first variable, mentioned above, is the percentage of fully vaccinated people;
  • The trend (upward or downward) of daily new cases of COVID-19;
  • The average number of new cases that each contagious person infects;
  • The degree to which the number of COVID tests being given is effective to identify the hidden, asymptomatic patients;
  • The ability to have ICU beds available for new COVID patients needing them.

Daily reports updating data for each of these variables are available.  A standardized grading scale of risk for each variable is also available.  Work is currently underway by the UUS:E Emergency Preparedness Task Force to develop this system for our use,  Everyone interested in this project will soon be hearing more about it.

260. In just a short time, the B.1.1.7 Variant COVID has become dominant in the U.S.

         Q:  What is so different about the “UK variant” strain of coronavirus?

         A:  Studies have shown that the mutant strain of coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom (properly labeled the B.1.1.1 variant), was first reported to infect a U.S. patient in December.  It is now the most common strain in America.  The main reason for this explosive surge is its higher infection rate – as much as 70% greater than the original coronavirus.  Being more efficient in infecting people, this variant has crowded out the less infectious strains.  It is also more deadly, but this outcome is blunted somewhat by the development of improved therapeutics. One of the observable outcomes of the B.1.1.1 variant was reported by Michael Osterholm, MD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.  He stated, “We’re now seeing substantial numbers of outbreaks in schools and school-related activities.”   One reason for this is obvious – children have not been eligible for vaccination leaving young people as a group more vulnerable, especially to a virus that is more easily transmitted.  A rapidly growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Carver County, Minnesota has been linked to school-sponsored and local sports activity.  A similar outbreak was reported in Dane County, Wisconsin where all the children in a child care center tested positive.

Another problem caused by the B.1.1.1 variant is that  it carries a couple of genetic mutations in the spike protein known as “deletions.”  Part of the genetic codes in the spike protein are missing.  It is the spike protein that triggers antibodies to fight the infections.  The missing genetic codes have been shown to help the B.1.1.1 variant escape these antibodies, enhancing the spread of the disease.  That also allows several commercial testing kits to miss the spike protein gene resulting in false negative test results.  Because young children are not able to keep social distancing on their own, this adds to the further spread of the disease.  The only positive findings from recent studies are indications that children under age 6 cannot easily spread the disease to others including family members at home.