Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 – November 24, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

411. UUS:E Guidelines are reflecting the changing status of Covid safety – 1.

         QHow is UUS:E moving safely to return to normal?

         A: The UUS:E Policy and Procedures Guidelines, first published on June 5th have been updated several times reflecting the changing levels of safety.  The decision was made to measure the influence of Covid in the surrounding community by monitoring five public health metrics or statistics for the State of Connecticut. Using these data, the UUS:E has decided on a major step it can take to greatly increase the safety of people inside the building, enhancing our ventilation system.  With the coming of cold weather, windows will not have to remain open.  This major project is nearing completion.

The decision to relax (or increase) restrictions can be based on four variables.

  • The metrics and how encouraging (or threatening) they are,
  • The status of effective mitigation actions such as ventilation and vaccinations,
  • Conformance with current state and CDC guidelines, and
  • The acceptable level of safety people perceive the guidelines provide.

One recently approved UUS:E guideline permits larger groups such as the choir to rehearse in the building and to perform at Sunday services.  Other musical groups including the singing circle and individuals playing musical instruments are also permitted.  There are some restrictions remaining like wearing masks, but this work is ongoing and future changes will be incrementally defined.

412. Covid might well become an ongoing problem continuously with us

         Q: Do we have to accept that Covid-19 may never go away?

         A:  The New York Times November 12 published an article by David Leonhardt that was inspired by Robert Wachter, MD, professor, and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).  Dr. Wachter is concerned about the downside of continuing to organize our lives around Covid.  His view is we need to start adapting by focusing now on normal living and stop delaying this because of fear.  Given this perspective, Dr. Wachter at age 64 is willing to accept additional risks that come with less restrictive behavior.  He points out that vaccines and booster shots offer a great deal of protection.  Treatments are emerging that reduce the risk of serious disease.  Covid is turning into a manageable virus similar to how we view the seasonal flu.  “I’m still going to be thoughtful and careful.”

Wachter stated he might always wear a mask while grocery shopping or flying on a plane because the costs of having a covered face and a muzzled voice in those settings are virtually zero, and he isn’t usually trying to have a conversation with somebody.  The benefits come from the knowledge that a mask can help protect him from all sorts of respiratory viruses, and the costs of most Covid interventions are high.

Two remaining issues need to be resolved to make this process probable: ways to prevent the disease from suddenly and dramatically surging, which is not the case with seasonal flu, and therapeutics that can be effective if taken after the shortness of breath appears.

When The Washington Post recently asked Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, when the pandemic would end, she said, “I think for most people, it just fades into the background of their lives.”

413. Two different strategies to manage this pandemic: China and the U.S.

         Q:  How do we shift away from trying to eliminate Covid to learning to live with it?

         A: On November 13, the Associated Press released an article headlined: “As many try living with virus, China keeps up zero tolerance.”  Recently, people in China wanting to travel to areas to view their autumn displays of colored leaves were instead quarantined for weeks.  The government had found a cluster of Covid-19 cases in a nearby city, and ordered more than 9,000 people to become isolated.  Most other countries have begun easing some restrictions as vaccination rates have increased, but China is rigorously applying its zero-tolerance policy in an attempt to completely eradicate this disease.  The article stated, “For authorities in Beijing, control over the virus has become a point of pride, a tool of propaganda – and proof, they say, of a superior form of governance.”

The Los Angeles Times recently reported a story headlined the “CDC shifts pandemic goals away from herd immunity.”  Jefferson Jones, a spokesman for the CDC’s Covid Epidemiology Task Force stated that none of our vaccines has been able to block all transmission of this disease.  “The result is that even if vaccination was universal, the coronavirus would probably continue to spread.”  Herd immunity denotes that if enough people are vaccinated, say 80% or perhaps as low as 75%, the disease would not be able to spread, would diminish, and eventually disappear.  That raises the possibility that herd immunity if it is a strict goal might not be possible to reach.  It could result in continued disruption of the economy and return to daily living.  There are many who argue against this decision.  Some feel it could be seen as another about-face of the CDC and challenge its credibility.  Others cite that the herd immunity goal is helping to increase the number of vaccinations which does curtail the number of cases.  The answer may lie in shifting the concept of herd immunity away from eliminating the disease, but continuing to stress the goal of increasing the vaccinations to make it possible to live with Covid-19 in the future.

 414. Anti-vaccine protests are not limited to the U.S.

         Q:  I hear that other countries also have anti-vaxxers and mask opponents.  Is this true?

         A:  Many countries in the EU find even more dedicated opponents to vaccinations and wearing masks than in our country.  Even as studies show that vaccination is the most effective way to control the disease persuading those who are deeply skeptical of vaccines has proved all but impossible. France, where anti-vaccine sentiment was strong, was one of the least vaccinated countries in Europe. Italy and Spain have taken strong measures to restrict attempts by populist parties to stoke a broad-based anti-vaccine backlash.  Austria has a cultural inclination among the population toward homeopathy and natural cures. About one in four people over 12 years of age are unvaccinated.  Austria has now gone to a complete lockdown to combat a major surge in cases and is proposing laws that will mandate vaccinations for all citizens.

415. Outbreaks are still possible – and in unlikely places.

         Q:  Is it true that large gatherings like sporting events are the way outbreaks occur?

         A:  Outbreaks can occur when large numbers of unvaccinated people gather and ignore masking, distancing, and other preventive measures for a sustained period of time.  Most (but certainly not all) large gatherings now include people who are vaccinated, either required by proof of vaccination, or by self-awareness.  But smaller events without these controls can cause outbreaks as well.  Consider St. Michael’s College in Vermont.  Officials are blaming Halloween parties for a Covid outbreak, which comes as Vermont has reported a record number of coronavirus cases over the past week.  New daily cases have increased 51 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also trending upward, fueling anxiety about the state’s hospital capacity as winter approaches.

Vermont is testing for the coronavirus more than most states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Recently, its Republican governor, Phil Scott, said in a statement that while testing had increased and the state’s positivity rate had stayed roughly the same, Vermonters needed to take all precautions they could. He also warned that if cases remain as high as they are, it “would be a significant strain” on the state’s hospitals.

At Saint Michael’s College, a liberal-arts school north of Burlington, 77 students tested positive for the virus this and last week, according to the college’s Covid-19 dashboard. In letters to the school, Lorraine Sterritt, the college president, said that Halloween parties had fueled the outbreak.  “We were doing really well as a community up to the point where there were numerous Halloween parties where students were unmasked and in close contact.”  “To be in this situation after such a well-managed semester is heartbreaking,” Ms. Sterritt said in a letter on Friday. “It is imperative that everyone make wise choices.”  The college on Sunday suspended “in-person student social gatherings” through Thanksgiving and asked that students limit off-campus travel. The school moved its classes online on Friday amid the outbreak.  Vermont is grappling with its highest number of new cases since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database, even though it has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country