Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — February 2, 2022

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

461. Repeated use of an N95 or KN95 mask is allowable.

         Q:  Do I have to throw away an N95 mask every time I use one?

         A: No.  The consensus of scientists is that an N95 or KN95 mask fabric can reliably filter up to 95% of small particles (0.3 microns or larger) for up to 40 hours of use.  To achieve this standard reliably, the mask fabric must be kept clean and dry.  If a mask becomes soiled or soaked as in a rainstorm, it should be discarded.  It has also been shown that spraying a liquid disinfectant on a mask alters the composition of the “blown fabric” reducing its effectiveness, also requiring it to be discarded.

462. The judicial system for the second time contradicts public health practice.

         QHave we heard anything more about courts ruling against public health mandates?

         A:  Earlier, the U.S.Supreme Court banned the vaccination mandate issued by president Biden requiring all businesses with over 100 employees to have unvaccinated workers tested regularly,  Last week, another federal court ruled against public health.   A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction on January 21 blocking the White House from requiring federal workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, though the ruling came months after the White House said that 95 percent of federal workers were already in compliance.  The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.

The judge in Texas, Jeffrey Brown, ruled that opponents of the mandate for federal employees were likely to succeed at trial and blocked the government from enforcing the requirement. Judge Brown was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by President Donald J. Trump in 2019.  Judge Brown, who is based in Galveston, said his ruling — in a lawsuit filed by the group Feds for Medical Freedom — was not about whether people should get vaccinated against coronavirus. He wrote that “the court believes they should.”  He stated, “It is instead about whether the president can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment,” he wrote in his 20-page ruling.  That, he said, was “a bridge too far.”  He said less invasive measures could protect public health, like masking, social distancing, and remote work.

463. The Covid-19 pandemic may not be over after the Omicron variant surge ends.

         Q: Is the pandemic ending now that so many have been vaccinated and surviving Covid?

         A:  Nationwide, the number of newly infected Covid patients is rapidly declining.  One of the hallmarks of this Covid experience has been its unpredictability.  We don’t know what to expect next.  Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times covers science and global health issues.  Last week, he wrote out a balanced view of what to expect in “life after Omicron.”  “The best-case scenario is that the Omicrom variant is the last bad variant of the virus, and the worst is behind us.”  He continued, “It’s possible that as early as March or April, we’ll start to get back to some version of our pre-pandemic lives.”  Perhaps by the Spring in the Northeast and probably later in other regions, many Americans will go back to work mask-free, send their children to school, and socialize with family and friends without worry.  That phase where we resume normal activities could last all spring, all summer, maybe until the fall or winter – or possibility forever,” Apoorva said.

In this scenario, many of us might experience a mild infection every few years, as with the coronavirus that causes the common cold but would not become seriously ill.  Only those at high risk from Covid would need regular booster vaccinations for the then-latest variant.

The idea of Omicron as the last stand of this coronavirus holds enormous appeal.  Scientists have agreed for some time that it’s unlikely we’ll reach herd immunity and Covid would completely disappear.  Instead, it seems likely that the virus will become endemic, a permanent part of our lives that, like the flu, we have to manage.  “But just because a virus is endemic doesn’t mean it’s low risk,” Apoorva said.  “Tuberculosis is a perfect example.  It’s endemic in many parts of the world.  Last year, 1.5 million people died of it.”

464. A sub-variant of the Omicron is more infectious, but scientists aren’t worried.

         Q:  I read in Friday’s Courant a new variant has been found in Fairfield CT.  Is this true?

         A:  In Friday’s Hartford Courant, that article was headlined, “Sub-variant of omicron found in Fairfield Co.”  The New York Times reported last week that this is not a new variant.  It is considered a “sub-variant” of the Omicron mutation.  The Omicron variant is scientifically known as the BA.1 virus, and this sub-variant is now known as BA.2.  This Omicron offshoot has been detected in at least 40 countries including Britain, Denmark, Sweden, India, and now the U.S.  The coronavirus is constantly mutating all the time, and small changes in the genetic makeup, like this subvariant, is not unusual.  The vast majority of variants are not cause for worry.  The World Health Organization has not found this mutation to result in anything of consequence different from the BA.1 and has kept its classification as a subvariant.  But the agency is encouraging scientists to continue to study its characteristics, including its ability to evade immunity, and its virulence as the number of cases of BA.2 have been increasing in many countries.

In Denmark, the number of cases caused by BA.2 has jumped 45% of all cases in the second week of January, up from 20% of all cases at the end of 2021.  The Statens Serum Institut, Denmark’s infectious disease authority said that preliminary calculations show that BA.2 is 1.5 times more infectious than BA.1.  But an initial analysis revealed that the new variant did not cause an increase in hospitalizations.   The news means that the country’s current wave could extend a bit further into next month than previously thought.  So far scientists aren’t very worried about it.

465. Future travel planning looks upbeat – in spite of the Omicron surge.

         Q:  When will it be safe to travel to Europe?  I have relatives there and I can’t wait.

         A: Last fall, travel agencies promoted specials to encourage the public to resume travel.  Then, in December, the Omicron variant surfaced, and with remarkable speed overwhelmed the U.S. and other countries with massive surges of cases.  International travel restrictions were imposed, and booked flights were canceled.  Others, planning travel closer to home, adopted the CDC recommended guidelines and stayed at home.  Yet a surprising number of people traveled anyway, many not following masking and distancing recommendations, some even without vaccinations or booster shots.  These practices were often reinforced by local indifference to the guidelines; public locations in many areas were filled with locals not wearing masks and gathering in large groups.  It is assumed that this accelerated the surge in new cases as the caseloads throughout the nation surged dramatically.

But now the daily prevalence of Covid-19 is falling almost as quickly as it rose only a month ago.  Jonathan Wolfe of the New York Times wrote last week assessing the current public attitude toward regional and international travel.  He cites that science has learned a lot about the Omicron variant and this has created public confidence toward future risks of infection.  Many people have contracted Covid-19 and, in his words, “So there’s this new confidence and relief, ‘OK, this isn’t so bad,’ and people are thinking, ‘I’ve got my vaccines, maybe I’ve had the virus and I have antibodies, and now I’m ready to plan a trip’.”  As a result, travel operators and search engines are seeing a sudden demand.  There is a sense by many that the next variant may be more virulent – lead to more serious disease, so travel now while it’s safe?  Bigger trips to more distant places are now appearing in travel plans.  There is much talk of the virus becoming endemic may also be encouraging more travel in the near future.  Also, many apparently feel that if the pandemic remains long into the future, there is no sense in waiting for it to go away.

Jonathan concludes his article with a warning that travelers need to plan with caution.  Travel to some areas may require mandatory quarantine restrictions causing missed flights and returning home when planned.  Medical care in other places may be compromised by overwhelming caseloads.  Cardiac care and trauma services may not be available to the level one is used to at home.  Finally, he urges a careful review of the fine print in any travel refund insurance policy one buys.  It can be stressful and expensive when expectations are not predictably met.