If, like most Americans, you have been waiting with bated breath for signs that the Covid-19 pandemic is winding down and that a return to normalcy has finally arrived, then you probably heaved a great sigh of relief at some point over the past two weeks as the Centers for Disease Control announced that vaccinated individuals could dispense with wearing masks in most settings. On May 19, New York followed suit and adopted the same guidelines, except where certain municipalities, businesses, schools, and settings such as hospitals or doctors' offices still require them. Combine that with a .9 percent seven-day rolling average of positive tests here in New York as of last weekend, and it's hard not to feel as if we may have at last crested the final hill.
Of course, as many have noted, we aren't completely back to normal yet. Unvaccinated individuals should still wear masks and socially distance when out and about in order to protect themselves and others, and as children under 12 years of age can't be vaccinated yet, the same applies to them, particularly in schools.
So, what comes next?
In medicine, particularly public health, we have long existed in a liminal space where the tension between recommendations for personal and public health need to be balanced against the priorities of personal responsibility and individual rights. When I advise a patient to cut back on red meat or start a blood pressure medicine to lower their risk of stroke, I'm primarily depending on my medical knowledge and expertise to guide that advice and, if it aligns with their personal goals, help the patient move toward a healthier version of themselves.
But when public health officials and scientists make sweeping recommendations such as those we've seen in this pandemic with regard to masks, social distancing, and testing, the focus shifts toward not only protecting the individual but equally the communities we live in. When health crises like the Covid-19 pandemic occur, a relatively novel situation in the modern medical era, these recommendations will shift and twist as new information comes to light and/or is tested in trials and medical studies.
This is where the trust between a patient and their doctor is paramount. It can be difficult to put your faith in what seems like a talking head on television or a faceless personality on the internet, but ideally you have formed a relationship with your family doctor, pediatrician, or internist. Even as artificial intelligence, evidence-based medicine, and sweeping health care corporations have redefined the medical landscape and given some the impression that primary care doctors will soon become a thing of the past, the ability to sit with a trusted and learned expert and share your fears, questions, and hopes is a singular opportunity that has become vital as never before.
If we allow ourselves to lose sight of that, it will only become easier to slip into the mire of doubt and confusion with regard to shifting recommendations and conspiracy theories, and that endangers not only us but our friends, family, and neighbors as well.
We don't know yet whether this moment in time truly marks the end of the Covid-19 pandemic here in the United States, but we do know that it does not mark the end of pandemics. I hope that we can all take this opportunity to deepen our relationships with each other. Find a primary care doctor you can trust, if you do not already have one, and take stock of what we can all do moving forward to remain safe, healthy, and happy.