Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — March 9, 2022

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

491. The CDC has issued new standards and guidelines for Covid-19.

         QWhat are the CDC “new guidelines” for combating Covid?

         A:  On February 28, 2022, the CDC issued new “community guidelines” recommending individuals evaluate their risk of contracting serious disease.  The rationale for this is that everyone should be up to date on their vaccinations, and those who have had the disease and recovered have increased immunity.  Thus, because everyone can become vaccinated, the new guidelines are built around the assumption that we no longer need to eliminate the disease.  On the surface, this new process resembles what we at UUS:E have been doing right along – reviewing  metrics to find which color range of severity you are in, and matching the color category – red, yellow or green – against the protective activities you should take.  This new process no longer looks at the risk of contracting the disease but only the risk of being hospitalized and/or dying from Covid.

The CDC provides access to their current data for anyone who wants to assess their risk on a county-by county basis showing how many people are hospitalized.  The general behaviors recommended for each risk level include:

  • Low (Green) -Stay up to date with Covid-19 Vaccines, and get tested if you have symptoms.
  • Medium (yellow) – If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions. Stay up to date with Covid-19 vaccines, and get tested if you have symptoms.
  • High (red) – wear a mask indoors in public.  Stay up to date with Covid-19 vaccines, get tested of you have symptoms, and follow additional precautions (listed) that may be needed for people at high risk for severe illness.

Separate provisions are offered for schools and other cloistered groups.  Remember, CDC guidelines are only recommendations and not requirements, but most states have already eliminated their previous mask mandates.  The new guidelines state that without a mandate, people should feel free to wear a mask if they want to – but examples have been shown on television of many political leaders who are advocating against even this “freedom.”  Currently, 37% of the counties in the U.S. are in the red level risk group.

Currently, our UUS:E policies remain focused on the goal of not contracting the disease.  Because the attendees of our meetings are primarily drawn from three counties, as a collective group we remain focused on statewide metrics including the number of cases.

492.  Public health for Covid-19 is moving from protection to personal preference.

         Q:  What is wrong with allowing people to do what they want to protect themselves?

         AThe country is leaving behind our latest COVID Omicron crisis mode.  But are we moving in the right direction?”   An article published March 2 states we are experiencing a “shift, away from an emphasis on the communal good in favor of personal preference.”  Caroline Mimbs Nyes, senior associate editor at the Atlantic, goes on to critically explain the ramifications of this shift.   

  • “The burden has shifted to the vulnerable.  Those most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19—those who have borne the virus’s burden the most—are now being asked to bear yet another added load.”
  • “Covid will be more like smoking than like the flu.  The pandemic’s greatest source of danger has transformed from a pathogen into a behavior,” one physician, Benjamin Mazer contends. ‘Choosing not to get vaccinated against COVID is, right now, a modifiable health risk on par with smoking.”
  • “Restaurants learned the wrong lessons.   Businesses around the country have largely stuck with pandemic tweaks that are pointless or even counterproductive,” Saahil Desai, senior associate editor at the Atlantic covering politics reports. ‘Instead of revamped ventilation, we’re stuck with QR-code menus.”

Caroline points out that President Biden in his State of the Union address last week is reinforcing the new stance of preference over personal protection.  The idea behind the new strategy is to move the nation out of crisis mode and into a stage where the virus will no longer disrupt everyday life. Biden stated that if you test positive at designated pharmacies you can now get medicine on the spot to keep you out of the hospital.  Increased vaccinations were not addressed.

493. Public health policy has officially been abandoned in combating Covid-19.

         Q: Why aren’t masks and other methods part of protecting the community any longer?

         A:  Last week Friday, Katherine J. Wu, health editor at the Atlantic, overviewed the shift of policy for managing Covid-19 away from public health to the field of personal health care – medicine.   She wrote that last week, “nearly all Americans were still being urged by the nation’s leadership to please, keep those darn masks on. Then the Great American Unmasking Part Deux began. On Friday (February 28), the CDC debuted a new set of Covid-19 guidelines that green-lit roughly 70% of us —effectively, anyone living in a place where hospitals are not being actively overrun by the coronavirus—to doff our masks in most indoor public settings…  The CDC’s decision… delivers a final blow to what little remained of the country’s collective approach to quashing the pandemic.”

“In the new playbook, recommendations for individual people, not communities, sit front and center, and mitigation falls under the purview of medicine rather than public health.”   “It is public health’s job to protect everybody, not just those people who are vaccinated, not just those people who are healthy,” says Theresa Chapple-McGruder, the Oak Park, Illinois director public health.

Protection against Covid-19 “isn’t spread equally. Millions of kids under 5 are still ineligible for shots. Vaccine effectiveness declines faster in older individuals and is patchy to begin with in many immunocompromised people. The chances of serious illness go up in high-exposure settings, too, and the CDC’s list of Covid-risky health conditions remains long. The pandemic has also, since its early days, disproportionately pummeled communities of color and people in low-income brackets—structural inequities that big, nationwide trends can easily obscure,”

494. Persuasion, historically, has overcome resistance to vaccinations.

         Q:  Should we just give up on convincing people to get vaccinated?

         A:  The original American advocate for inoculation against severe disease was a slave named Onesimus. Originally he came from West Africa, where inoculation was a common practice. There, he had been deliberately infected with a small amount of smallpox to make him immune from a more severe version.  In Boston, Onesimus told his owner, Cotton Mather, about the practice. Mather was keenly interested in science, When smallpox began spreading in Boston in the 1720s, Mather campaigned for residents to be inoculated — and was met with fierce criticism and even an attempt to bomb his home.  But leaders including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington supported and later, mandated this new process.  Franklin’s son, “Franky”, later died of smallpox.

The two most effective responses to vaccine skepticism have been government mandates and relentless, calm persuasion. But broad Covid-vaccine mandates are probably unrealistic in the U.S. today, thanks to a combination of a Supreme Court ruling and widescale public opposition.  “As a doctor, I was always trained you never give up on people — you show up,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently stated. “You build trust by listening to people, helping them feel they’re respected and valued.”

495. Great Britain “returns to normal” by lifting all restrictions.

          Q:  I heard England has declared they are back to normal.  Is this true?

          A:   Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he was scrapping the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, saying it was time to live with the virus.  He did not declare the nation’s health crisis over.  Now the final restrictions are gone. That includes mask requirements, even on London’s public transportation, and legal isolation requirements, even if you have the virus.  We also have access to free rapid tests, which we get through the National Health Service, but those won’t be free anymore after April 1. That probably means that people will stop testing, unless they’re very ill, because no one is going to say, “Let’s buy tests before we see each other.”

So if you test positive, you no longer have to isolate. You’re still encouraged to stay home, but it’s no longer legally required.  If you get Covid or a nasty flu, you’re probably going to do the responsible thing and stay home anyway. But since you essentially no longer have to tell anyone if you test positive — and after April, you may not even know if you are infected unless you pay for a test — it may change the calculation for some people. Maybe you have a trip planned and you’re not going to cancel it. Or maybe you have a party or a dinner you really want to go to, so you do. This makes everyone’s personal risk assessment very, very difficult.  One can only wonder if a new, more infectious variant might appear and start to surge!  Would vaccinations even be acceptable as an option?