Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19, March 10, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

226.  National COVID-19 Strategic Plan – (Part 7 of 8)

         Q:  What’s in the new United States strategic plan for controlling this pandemic?

         A: On January 21, 2021,  President Joe Biden released the 198-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.  This week’s summary gives details about:

Goal 6Protect those more at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.

The plan states, “The federal government will address disparities in the rates of infections, illness and death among communities defined by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors.”  The United States will:

  • Establish the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force’
  • Increase data collection and reporting for high risk groups;
  • Ensure equitable access to critical COVID-19 PPE, tests, therapies and vaccines;
  • Expand access to high quality health care;
  • Expand the clinical and public health workforce;
  • Strengthen the social service safety net to address unmet basic needs; and
  • Support communities most at risk for COVID-19

Next week: details about Goal 7 – Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.

227. CDC Guidelines for vaccinated people

         Q. The CDC promised guidelines for vaccinated people. Where are these?

         A. The updated set of guidelines was published on Monday, March 8. Because full immunity is acquired after 14 days from receiving both shots for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, (or the single shot for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), these guidelines apply when a person has full immunity.  The new guidelines state, “Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.  We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19.  After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions in public places like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more.”

Specific activities are listed that are changes from what unvaccinated people must continue to follow:

  • You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19.
  • If you have been around someone with COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others (self-isolate), or get tested unless you have symptoms.
    • However, if you live in a congregate setting (g., rehabilitation hospital, nursing home, etc.), you should stay away from others for 14 days.

Vaccinated people are advised to delay domestic or international travel.  If someone does travel, they need to follow all the guidelines for unvaccinated people.  You are advised to follow all guidelines at your workplace, even if you are fully vaccinated.

Studies are continuing to evaluate several factors that may influence these guidelines:

  • How the different variants (mutations) are affected by the vaccines;
  • How long the vaccines and recovery from COVID-19 provide immunity;
  • How effective vaccines are at preventing the spread of new infections.

 228. It’s a myth – “Vaccines present a clear path for a return to normal!”

         Q:  My husband tells me that because there is a vaccine, we can now ignore all restrictions and return to normal.  Is that true?

         A:  No.  In spite of this being touted as a political position in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, the science of epidemiology warns that many bumps lie in the road ahead that if not managed, could even lead to COVID-19 becoming an endemic long-term pathology like the common cold or seasonal influenza.  This is with, of course, more serious implications for death and disability.  Chris Murray is the Director of the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.  His position is changing on the course of this pandemic.  His premise until recently was that the emerging vaccines along with the immunity built up after recovering from COVID-19 would eliminate the disease entirely.  He recently reviewed data from a clinical trial in South Africa.  It showed that a rapidly spreading variant of the disease could not only dampen the effect of the vaccine, it could also evade natural immunity in people who had been previously infected.  Reuters News Service recently interviewed a panel of 18 scientists who have reviewed the data from South Africa and Brazil.  Reuters reported, “the consensus is now emerging that COVID-19 not only will remain with us as an endemic virus, continuing to circulate in communities, but will likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come.”  It was also reported that some hope lies ahead with the ability to genetically modify the mRNA in vaccines to address these issues and make booster vaccines to increase the effectiveness against these and subsequent variants that emerge.

A new study has also been reported by a group of scientists looking at another variant (“501Y.V2”) recently discovered in South Africa.  This variant is the main driver of South Africa’s second wave of COVID-19 infections, which hit a new daily peak of 21,000 cases earlier this month.  The study shows that a common treatment for COVID cases is convalescent plasma.  Plasma, containing antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients, is injected, usually resulting in improved patient outcomes.  Persons infected with this new variant, however show greatly reduced improvement.  For some reason, this mutation defeats this common therapeutic that is widely used.  The result is a higher rate of serious disease and deaths as an increasing number of people become infected.

It seems the more we learn, the more questions emerge.  As this quest continues, we find old assumptions have to change.  And while the scientists struggle to keep up, the public can easily get confused.  Stand by!

229. Airplane cabin air in flight has really low particulate levels.

         Q:  When flying, we’re cooped up in an enclosed cabin.  How safe is this for avoiding COVID-19?

         A:  A research paper was recently published by the Georgia Institute of Technology.  It reported, “If you’re looking for an indoor space with a low-level particulate air pollution, a commercial air liner flying at cruising altitude may be your best option.”  The study compared the air quality in stores, restaurants, offices, public transportation and commercial jets.  In flight, jet planes ranked with the lowest levels of particulates.  All jets use filters for ventilating air through the cabin.  And when in-flight, outside air is brought in to mix with recirculating cabin air.  Opening the vent overhead to bring a rush of filtered air around you – on the ground as well as inflight – will help reduce the concentration of any infectious particles from nearby passengers.  And it is still recommended you wear a mask at all times when in the airplane.  Put your peanuts and pretzels in your pockets, refrain from eating meals in flight if possible, and ask for a straw to sip drinks – even coffee or tea – while leaving your mask in place.

230. COVID-19 vaccines for animals is being tested and used.

         Q:  Why am I hearing that some zoos are vaccinating their animals against COVID?

         A:  In addition to early reports that some domestic pets – cats and dogs – had been displaying symptoms of COVID-19, scientists now have found this disease has also been found in mink, ferrets, cougars, lions, tigers, snow leopards, and the great apes (gorillas and orangutans).  Zoetis is a company that manufactures veterinary pharmaceuticals.  Zoetis has been testing its animal COVID-19 vaccine on cats and dogs with success.  Earlier this year, at the San Diego Zoo, an orangutan named Karen came down with COVID symptoms.  Karen and three other orangutans live together as a troop – and 5 great apes – bonobos – also are residents at this same zoo.  In February, all these apes were given the Zoetis vaccine.  Karen is doing well in her recovery, and the other apes are showing the vaccine to be safe and effective.  Aside from protecting the investment zoos have made in their animals, there are other significant reasons why veterinary vaccines are important.  It is estimated there are only 5,000 gorillas in the world living in the wild.  They live in tight-knit groups called troops.  If COVID infection were to spread to these native gorillas, they could easily face extinction.  Globally, commercial mink farming has been devastated by COVID infections this past year.  Animal vaccinations will allow this business to rebound in the years ahead.