Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — July 21, 2021

“Shared expectations lead to predictability”

321. Unvaccinated children are more safe in school this fall when wearing masks. 

         Q. Why can’t everyone agree – when school opens, children shouldn’t have to wear masks?

         A.  Last Sunday’s front page headline in the Hartford Courant said, “Parent groups push against masks.” There is an increase in the number of advocates pushing for state officials to remove the CDC recommended restriction that children under age 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated, and older unvaccinated children should wear face masks while attending in-person classes. It is argued by parents that masks restrict respiration and create a barrier for social development. This is another manifestation of the often-cited (in this column) conflict between personal health and public health. Parents have a recognized control over the medical care their children receive. But when a person’s behavior places others in the community at risk, as by infecting people with a transmissible disease, public health measures must be imposed to protect others. The Delta variant of coronavirus-19 is highly infectious and more virulent. Unvaccinated children can pass the Delta variant onto others if they become infected. Wearing masks helps prevent this from happening. Parents also often cite the fact that infected children in the past have not had as serious disease as many adults, and the risk is greater from wearing masks than if they get the disease. Research has also debunked that presumption. On Monday this week, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children returning to school this fall should wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Thomas Balcezak, MD, chief clinical officer for Yale New Haven Health recently stated, “The threat is not zero to kids and the threat to public health is substantial.” Masks worn by children in school is “the safer thing to do,” Dr. Balcezak concluded.

322. Covid-19 has become the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

         Q. Is the Delta variant really more infectious and deadly than the original virus? 

         A. The director of CDC, Rochelle Walensky, last week stated that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been rising. Walensky said the data is sending a “clear message.” She said, “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” That conclusion came after Walensky gave an overview of the CDC’s most recent data. “After weeks of declines,” Walensky said, “the seven-day average of daily deaths has increased by 26 percent to 211 per day.” the CDC reported more than 33,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday — an increase in the seven-day average of nearly 70 percent. And over the same time period, the average number of hospital admissions also rose by 36 percent compared to the previous week. Most of those cases are occurring in areas with low vaccination rates.

323.  A returning to wearing masks may be near, but for different reasons.

          Q:  Why has California reimposed pandemic restrictions for even vaccinated people?

          A:  By earlier setting different recommendations for fully vaccinated people vs. those not vaccinated, The CDC created, in effect, two separate programs for the country.  For those who became vaccinated, they have been rewarded by “getting back to normal.”  For those unvaccinated, people, many were encouraged to become vaccinated.  But for the majority who were not vaccinated, and who have decided not to get their shots, it led to their need to ignore the recommended action and give in to their urge to also return to normal by behaving the same as those who have had their shots.  Without a “vaccination passport” or other proof of vaccination, it has become easier for the unvaccinated to pretend they are protected and circulate among others without any protections.  This placed many unvaccinated people close together without masks at public events where the disease will spread more rapidly.  Last week, in Los Angeles County, this was found to be the cause of a significant rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.  In just one month this summer, the number of cases rose by 700%!  Officials imposed requirements for mask wearing and social distancing for everyone – including those who are fully vaccinated.  This may become an example followed elsewhere.  It is not to protect everyone, but to protect the public health until everyone can become vaccinated or COVID-19 is eradicated.

324. The metrics that allowed us to reopen are changing and are being monitored.

          Q:  Is the church going to close because the infection rate is going up?

          A:  UUS:E had adopted a policy to use science to base its decisions about opening and, if needed, for later re-closing the church due to the risks of COVID-19 in the community.   The Policy Board received a report that threshold metrics were met for an acceptable risk to open the building for inside activity, and on June 15, the decision was reached to open.  These metrics were monitored, and in a short period, the threshold of an unacceptable infection rate had been crossed.  A recommendation to re-close the church was then sent to the Policy Board.  At its meeting on July, 5, the board learned that the infection rate was fluctuating around the threshold, and that the other metrics indicated the threat to safety was not clear.  The Board voted to change the policy wording to “evaluate” the need for closing the church – this instead of simply deciding to close the facilities.  The church currently remains open while the metrics continue to be monitored.  There are many indications that the pandemic risk in Connecticut might be rising, but this has not yet been shown by the scientific data metrics.  The next influential factor that might emerge this and next week could be the July Fourth celebrations where unmasked, unvaccinated people may have gathered in crowds to celebrate concerts, festivals and fireworks displays.

325.  A “new” coronavirus variant named “Lambda” is being intensively studied.

         Q:  I heard a passing reference about a new Lambda variant.  Is this one a problem?

         A:  Scientists are scrambling, according to one report, to understand this new variant.  This is really not a new variant, having been first identified in Peru in August 2020.  It was not initially associated with an unusual infectious ability, or causing serious disease.   It has now been identified in 29 different countries including the U.S.  In January, in Peru, it accounted for only 0.5 cases, but in the last 6 months, it has risen to account for 90% of the cases.  In December, Peru suffered the world’s worst mortality due to COVID-19.  It has already killed .54% of its population.  In neighboring Chile, the Lambda variant is responsible for at least a third of its cases in the last 60 days.  Chile uses the vaccine from China, which has been given to 56.8% of its population.  That vaccine has a lower effectivity than the vaccines approved by the U.S. FDA.  Local scientists have identified several indications that the Lambda variant may have characteristics that help it evade the immune system and vaccines.  Based on these early findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated it as a “Variant of Interest.”

Latin America has only 8% of the world’s population, but it has 20% of the world’s COVID cases and 32% of deaths world-wide.  Detailed studies of the Lambda variant are being conducted.  Significant changes in the spikes and amino acid compositions have been identified.  There are limited studies on Lambda of the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., but with many cases being identified here, these studies are now underway.  Herbert Virgin, an immunologist in Peru stated, “Lambda isn’t scarier than the Delta virus.  The key is they are both highly transmissible viruses.  The rate of infection with these viruses is going to go down in areas where people get the vaccine.”

326. Covid-19 is only spread by airborne contact through the respiratory system.

         Q:  Someone told me that you can be infected with COVID from mosquito bites.  This sounds logical – is it true?

         A:   No.  This is one of the many, many statements of misinformation that abounds throughout the country.  We all have a picture of what a coronavirus particle, called a virion looks like.  It is spherical in shape with multiple “spikes” projecting from it.  Each virion is so tiny (tens of millions exist in infected patients) that they easily float with fine droplets when someone sneezes, coughs, or even just exhales while breathing.  If any healthy person is breathing air where these virus particles are present, these particles come in contact with that healthy person’s mucous membranes in their mouth, nose and throat.  Everyone’s cells in these and other locations rely on nutrients being absorbed to stay alive.  The spikes on each virion triggers the human cell to open a portal letting it enter.  Once inside, the virion uses the cell contents to divide and replicate into a large number of duplicate virions.  This process kills the cell, allowing each replicated virion to escape and find entry to other healthy cells,  This is what creates an infection to cause COVID-19 as a disease.  This process is the same for all of its variants.  The Delta variant has mutations that make the spikes much easier to enter healthy cells – to be more contagious.

Mosquitoes transmit diseases such as malaria through the blood stream.  COVID-19 is an airborne disease, not a blood-borne disease.  Anyone hearing misinformation like this should immediately ask for the source of that “fact” and challenge its authenticity.  Did you hear the one going around that COVID vaccines inject microchips into people so the government can keep track of its citizens?  How about another popular disinformation statement: vaccinated people have their skin magnetized so that steel objects stick to them!  Learn, determine the truth, and speak up whenever you hear misinformation!

327. Vaccine mandates v. protected rights – commonality, not controversy

         Q: Hospital workers in Connecticut are being required to be vaccinated.  Why isn’t this a violation of their personal rights?

         A: The newspapers are filled with stories about public health mandates being ordered resulting in strong resistance and objections.  Current evidence of this problem is shown by many signs in local yards demanding that kids should not have to wear masks when schools reopen.  In France and Australia, police are using teargas and water cannons to quell the protests.  There appears to be a conflict between protesting against legislation requiring masks be worn indoors and the increase of cases from the more infectious Delta variant.  The key to this is the lack of understanding that while we have the right to decide our issues affecting our personal health, public health issues require actions to protect the whole community.  Without public health, smallpox would still be killing thousands of people with a severely disfiguring scarring for those who survive.  Polio would still be a concern for children returning to school, and baseball crowds would not exist,  In most public health emergencies, the public connects the inconvenience of getting vaccinated with the health of the community.  Experts now say that because of politics, large numbers of people strongly resisting COVID-19 vaccinations may result in COVID becoming endemic.  This means that we may never stamp it out, and it might remain with us for a very long time, requiring annual shots, like those for the common seasonal flu to remain alive and healthy.

328. Here’s two reasons why some Republicans are now promoting vaccinations.

          Q:  Why has some media broadcasters and others so suddenly changing from being anti-vaxers to supporting people getting vaccinations?

          A:  One reason is the connection to a section of the Consumer Protection Act that was enacted in December 2020.  This made it “unlawful” for a corporation or an individual “to engage in a deceptive act or process in or affecting commerce associated with the treatment, cure, prevention mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID-19.”  Dean Obeidallah, a commentator for MSNBC, felt this fit the actions taken by Fox News commentators and reporters, and he recently filed a lawsuit against this company.  Fox News is a profit-making company selling a product (information) to the public.  Almost immediately after filing this suit, Fox on-air staff began promoting vaccinations.  As if to provide a defense in court if the suit proceeds to trial.

Another reason cited in recent media reports is that Republican congressional leaders recently saw the future impact on their political futures by the cascading increase in COVID cases being blamed by people not being vaccinated.  To improve their chances of being elected in 2022, these Republicans have quickly reached a policy decision to support vaccinations, and have also rapidly convinced their supporters, including Fox News, to suddenly take positions opposite to their recent prolonged messaging.

329. Breakthrough infections are often needlessly seen as presenting a great risk.

         Q:  The number of  people getting infected with the Delta variant is increasing.  Are we in real trouble? 

         A:  We are all getting used to news about the pandemic in “all-or-nothing” terms.  We are either “open,” or we are “closed.”  It gets confusing to figure out the 5 places we visit where masks should be worn while there are others where it is not necessary.  But the issue of vaccinated people getting infected should not be causing fear or panic.  All approved vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious disease, hospitalizations or death.  Don’t forget that a vaccine that is 95% effective when initially taken means that 5 out of a hundred people will not be protected.  Most of the breakout cases are asymptomatic, or have very short-term and quite mild symptoms.  From the perspective following the metrics, the remaining challenge for UUS:E will be the number of vaccinated people who are regularly tested.  Remember, the only thing that positive test percentage or ratio measures determine is that the number of tests is sufficient to estimate the actual number of cases in the community.  As the ratio increases, it only shows the need for increased testing.  The resulting risk would be a forecast of future cases increasing in numbers.

330. Some parents are not informed of risks to children; how we all can take action.

         Q:  I manage a retail store.  We require mask wearing, and are surprised at the number of people coming in with children who haven’t heard that children are at risk.

         A:  Why haven’t parents heard the correct message?  It may be the constant presentation pf misinformation that exists everywhere.  Yard signs by parents demanding that when school opens in a few weeks, kids should not be required to wear masks.  “Experts” on TV repeating the broad reassurances from last year that children aren’t affected by COVID as much as adults. The news media following national priorities is heavily publicizing vaccinations.  This doesn’t leave much space to address the risks for children under age 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet.  To bring this message to parents on what risks are to children, perhaps as a store owner, you might print a few sentences from CDC guidance on slips of paper and post or hand them out to parents of unmasked children as the enter.  Maybe all of us can talk with family members and friends who have children to bring this issue to their attention.  Check out the following URL for “the CDC official word.” [1]

That brings to mind a “Food for Thought” idea.  What other actions could we take at UUS:E to promote and advance the mitigation of the current spread of COVID?

[1] To open this website, block this entire URL, hold down the Control key and hit “Enter.”  If this doesn’t work, copy the entire URL and paste in into your browser.  The first paragraph of full text describes the risks to children.  You can add “Please wear a mask when inside.” Or other wording as appropriate.