Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — December 1, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

416. UUS:E Guidelines are reflecting the changing status of Covid safety – 2

         QHow is UUS:E moving safely to return to normal?

         A: As mentioned in this column last week, a major improvement is nearing completion: adequate ventilation of the building without keeping the windows open.  In the lower RE level of the building, this system has shown that room air exchange rate per hour is above the recommended level, effectively removing any errant Covid virions that might be present.  Because of this, small adult groups (ages 12 or older) such as committees and non-church groups can meet inside the building during cold weather.  Masks must be worn, and modified special distancing (3 feet between people) must be maintained.

Discussion is now underway to allow an increase in the number of people at Sunday Services and meetings.  With the high ratio of congregants, family, and friends being vaccinated, there is a limited chance for any virus to be present indoors to infect others.  And for any unvaccinated person there, the improved ventilation system, masks, and social distancing are present to protect.  Thus, church members are much safer than when they are Christmas shopping in much less vaccinated crowds.  We’ve created a highly safe “bubble” for such gatherings.  Of course, the continuation of live-streaming Sunday services will provide safety for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

417. A new variant of concern named “Omicron” has emerged.

         Q: Is there a new variant?

         A:  Last week on Friday, the news bulletins flashed the fact that a new variant had been identified.   Later that day, the World Health Organization (WHO) had named it for the Greek letter “Omicron.”  It also designated it as a “variant of concern.”

There is a lack of knowledge about this variant.  Genomic sequencing of infections in South Africa found this variant contained 30 identified mutations in the area of the spike protein.  This is what the current vaccinations target, and could mean existing vaccines might be less effective.  This we should know with more certainty in the coming weeks.

Omicron is already in evidence in most of South Africa’s provinces, along with Botswana, and cases have been found in Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium. It was further speculated that cases are already in the U.S. but genetic testing to identify this variant is not yet widely available.  Depending on the findings, if vaccines need to be modified, it will take time for sequencing, production, clinical trials to be conducted, doses manufactured and delivered, There are also questions about how the new variant may change the effectiveness of the therapeutics available.

Wherever Omicron appears, it’s likely we’ll need the now-familiar range of detection and mitigation measures — mask mandates in public, more frequent testing, and work-from-home guidance. While these measures are already back in place in much of Europe, it would be an unwelcome regression for the U.S., where mask-wearing is increasingly rarer.

The best advice, for now, is to wait for science to catch up, and listen as findings of transmissibility, virulence, and treatability are identified.  We also need to remember that the Delta variant is still taking its toll on those not vaccinated, and increased vaccinations are proven to save lives.

418. Asymptomatic Covid-19 cases are found to lead to long-haul effects.

         Q:  Do asymptomatic pandemic cases have long-term after-effects?

         A:  Very early in the manifestation of the disease, there were 104 people on a cruise ship of whom 76 had asymptomatic Covid-19.  Of that group, 54 percent (41 patients) had lung abnormalities.  Eric Topol, MD is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute authored an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  After reviewing the CT scans of these 41 patients he stated’ “this finding suggests that the absence of symptoms might not necessarily mean the absence of harm.”

Another recent study of 1,075 children who had been diagnosed with the multisystem inflammatory disease showed that three-quarters had originally been asymptomatic.  But there’s reason to hope that this syndrome might not cause long-term effects in patients, symptomatic or otherwise  A recent study of 45 pediatric patients showed their heart problems—which ranged from leaky valves to enlarged coronary arteries—mostly resolved within six months.  “We have had an amazing breakthrough in terms of the rapid development of effective and safe vaccines,” she says. Although Parker and other scientists remain uncertain of the health effects of asymptomatic COVID-19, “we do know that vaccinations are safe and effective and available.”

419. The future of going to the office to work or staying home is questioned.

         Q:  As things get better, is working at home or returning to the office better?

         A:  The answer is… it depends!   In a recent survey of business leaders, “the consensus was there was no consensus.” Chief executives are struggling to balance expectations that are not always shared.  They are eager to appear responsive to employees who relish their newfound autonomy, but reluctant to give up too much control.  Many find they are frequently changing policies in response to worker demands, by re-examining aspects of their business they were comfortable with before.  “Preferences are changing during this pandemic,” said Tim Ryan, the U.S. chairman of PwC, the accounting and consulting firm, which said that it would let its U.S. workers work remotely forever.  “C.E.O.s are now just beginning to realize that if you’re employing thousands and thousands and thousands of people, you need to have multiple options,” he said. “I believe what we announced will be commonplace for the mass employers in a matter of months. It’s just catching up with how fast the world is moving.”

But for Chris Merrill, a co-founder and the chief executive of Harrison Street, a private real estate investment firm, the romanticization of remote work is unthinkable.  “It’s very important to get the younger employees in the office, collaborating and working hard,” he said. “Personal interactions are what this is all about.”

Worker preferences are not uniform either.  Child care, informal dress, focus on doing tasks rather than idly watching the clock are the preferences of many.  Others find avoiding interruptions with private and family obligations, social interaction with co-workers, and on-site collaborations, make office work preferred.  The probability is a mix of the two with the work environment becoming an important factor for hiring and accepting job offers.

420. Mental health issues are an increasing problem during the pandemic.

         Q:  Has Covid-19 had an effect on kids’ mental health?

         A:  Published reports suggest that COVID-19 has had a negative effect on children’s mental health. Emergency departments are often the first point of care for children experiencing mental health emergencies, particularly when other services are unavailable. U.S. children under age 18 were studied using data from CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program from January 1 through October 17, 2020.  Compared to data collected one year earlier, the average reported number of children’s mental health-related ED visits overall was higher.

Many children receive mental health services through clinical and community agencies, including schools. An increase in the proportion of emergency department (ED) visits for children’s mental health concerns might reflect increased pandemic-related stress and unintended consequences of mitigation measures, which reduced or modified access to children’s mental health services.  It also could result in increased reliance on ED services for both routine and crisis treatment. Many mental disorders commence in childhood, and existing mental health concerns might be exacerbated by stress related to the pandemic and abrupt disruptions to daily life associated with mitigation efforts.  Included are concerns about anxiety, illness, social isolation, and interrupted connectedness to school. The majority of EDs lack adequate capacity to treat pediatric mental health concerns.