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

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

486. One booster shot may protect from serious Covid for perhaps years.

         Q:  Why aren’t officials preparing to give additional booster shots as immunity wanes?

         A:  According to several new studies, the New York Times reported last week that it looks as if Covid boosters will continue to protect most people from serious illness and death for many months and perhaps even years.  This means we probably won’t need to line up for another shot anytime soon.  Previous studies have shown that antibodies, the body’s first line of defense against the virus, can wane over time, leading some to worry that we may be caught in an indefinite cycle of boosters. Apoorva Mandavilli, science and health reporter for the New York Times, said that antibodies were just part of the picture.

“People are obsessed with antibodies,” Apoorva said, in part because antibodies are relatively easy to study quickly. “But antibody levels always go down, and that does not necessarily mean that immunity to severe illness is waning. That’s a bad way to think about your immune system.”  Instead, the new research looked at other parts of the immune system that can remember and destroy the virus, including B cells and T cells. The studies found that this diverse repertoire of defenses should be able to protect people who have had three shots, or even two, for months or years.

“Let’s say that you have very few antibodies and the virus does get in, then you have these backup defenses,” Apoorva said. “The B cells make more antibodies and the T cells can destroy any cell that is infected, so between them, they can basically put a stop to the infection and stop you from getting sick.”

Given how different Omicron’s mutations are from previous variants, it’s very likely that T cells would mount a similarly robust attack on any future variant as well, researchers said.

“The vaccines are really excellent at producing long-term memory,” Apoorva said. “And if what we’re worried about is preventing our health care system from getting overwhelmed with a lot of sick people, those who already have had two doses and maybe three doses are good to go for at least a while.”

487. As mask mandates ease in the U.S., Peurto Rico and Hawaii are holding out.

         QAre mask mandates being removed everywhere in the country?

         A:  Indoor mask mandates in every state except for Hawaii have expired or are scheduled to be lifted, as the United States nears its third year of the pandemic.  Puerto Rico, the largest U.S. territory, also has no plans to lift its mask mandate.  As the Omicron wave recedes, several governors announced in quick succession this month that they would end their statewide mask mandates, some of which applied to schools or indoor public places.  Fewer than 10 states still require masks in K-12 schools, though federal guidance recommends that all students, teachers and staff members, and people in places with outbreaks wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.

Last week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency was working on guidance, including on masks, that was “relevant” and would encourage measures where they are most needed to safeguard public health.  Hawaii, which has had among the country’s fewest cases per capita over the course of the pandemic, has seen its daily average of new cases plummet about 70 percent over the past two weeks.  Hospitalizations are down about 50 percent over the same time.  This is because of the tightly held restrictions that have been in place, making officials reluctant to lift mandates until there is greater assurance this won’t cause cases to increase.   But some restrictions at Hawaii’s local level are coming to an end. In Maui County, proof of vaccination or negative coronavirus test results are no longer required beginning this week for bars, gyms, and restaurants. Nearly 80 percent of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated.

Puerto Rico has a similar level of inoculation, and its daily averages of new cases and hospitalizations have dropped about 60 percent over the past two weeks.  Deaths on the island have dropped 42 percent over the same time period.

488. The number of new Covid-19 cases in the world dropped 21% last week.

         Q: Are western countries the only ones seeing a reduction in Covid cases?

         A:  The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21% in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that COVID-19 cases have dropped, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.  In the U.N. health agency’s weekly pandemic report, WHO said there were more than 12 million new coronavirus infections last week. The number of new COVID-19 deaths fell 8% to about 67,000 worldwide, the first time that weekly deaths have fallen since early January.  The Western Pacific was the only region that saw an increase in COVID-19 cases, with a 29% jump, while the number of infections elsewhere dropped significantly. The number of new deaths also rose in the Western Pacific and Africa while falling everywhere else. The highest number of new COVID-19 cases were seen in Russia, Germany, Brazil, the U.S. and South Korea.

WHO said Omicron remains the overwhelmingly dominant variant worldwide, accounting for more than 99% of genetic sequences shared with the world’s biggest virus database. It said Delta was the only other variant of significance, which comprised fewer than 1% of shared sequences.  WHO also reported that available vaccine evidence shows that booster vaccination substantially improves vaccine effectiveness, against the omicron variant, but said more details are still needed on how long such protection lasts.

489. Hong Kong now will implement strong testing and restrictions.

         Q:  What other countries are deciding not to lift mandated restrictions?

         A:  Hong Kong has been seen as a world leader in controlling the coronavirus pandemic, but a wave of Omicron infections that began late last year has overwhelmed its defenses. There have been 145 deaths and more than 53,000 coronavirus cases recorded this year, compared with 213 deaths and more than 12,000 cases in 2020 and 2021, according to government data.

Hong Kong, now under the direct control of China, will require its more than seven million residents to undergo coronavirus testing in March, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said last Tuesday, as the territory struggles to contain its worst outbreak.  Residents will have to take three tests over a short period, starting in March. And Hong Kong will expand its testing capacity to one million tests a day from about 200,000 a day by next month, Mrs. Lam said in a news conference.

Hong Kong had been under pressure from pro-Beijing politicians to enforce some of the aggressive measures that have been used to quash outbreaks in mainland China, including citywide lockdowns and universal testing.  The latest wave of infections, which has led the total number of cases in the city to surpass that of the previous two years and left hospitals overflowing, has forced the authorities to expand their efforts. New isolation facilities are being built to house coronavirus patients and a large-scale hospital is also being planned.

490. Elizabeth, Queen of England, has mild Covid symptoms.

         Q:  Has Covid spread to the British royalty?

         A:   Buckingham Palace announced last Tuesday that Queen Elizabeth II will miss all in-person engagements because of mild symptoms from the coronavirus.  The 95-year-old monarch tested positive for Covid on Sunday. She had met this month with her elder son and heir, Prince Charles, who was later reported to be reinfected with Covid and went into isolation.  In a previous statement published on Sunday, the palace did not address whether Charles was the source of the infection. But officials have pointed to a recent outbreak of cases at Windsor Castle, suggesting she could have been infected by others in the royal household.

Buckingham Palace has diligently labored to protect the queen from exposure to the virus. She retreated to Windsor Castle in early 2020 with her husband, Prince Philip, and lived in virtual quarantine for more than a year.  Elizabeth received a dose of vaccine in January 2021 at Windsor Castle, along with Philip. The palace has not confirmed any subsequent vaccine doses. Charles has said that he is fully vaccinated and boosted.   The queen’s illness comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to lift all Covid restrictions in England.