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On Call: Is the Pandemic Over?

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 16:57

It's hard not to wonder if the Covid-19 pandemic is finally over, especially as spring brings fairer weather and nature is exploding into life everywhere you look. 

Moreover, the C.D.C. announced new guidelines last week about mask wearing, allowing vaccinated individuals to drop wearing a mask altogether when they're outside as long as they're not in a crowd. Combine that with businesses reopening across many states, and it's hard not to feel good about how far we've come. 

Already it seems as if we are on the verge of full normalcy, with more and more families choosing to go out to eat or engage with their friends socially, and all of this in the context of falling numbers, at least in our neck of the woods, as more and more people are vaccinated, encouraged by the exciting news that the vaccines appear to be holding their own against newer, more contagious variants and in how well they prevent serious illness. If that's the case and the vaccines also appear to decrease transmission, have we reduced the novel coronavirus to something akin to influenza?

Not yet. 

As there are still nations like India and Brazil feeling the full, unbridled devastation of uncontrolled Covid-19 outbreaks, I do not think we can allow ourselves the luxury of saying this pandemic is well over and done yet. The longer the virus is allowed to transmit and infect, the more opportunities and time we give it to mutate and persist. If we throw caution to the winds and abandon all social distancing measures now, there remains the distinct possibility that we will see outbreak numbers jump in places with lower vaccination rates. 

Lives are still at risk, not just our own but also those of the unvaccinated and immunocompromised in our communities. While many have framed the decision to be vaccinated or not as simply a personal one, we cannot ignore the fact that choosing not to do so puts others in danger if someone interacts at all in the public space because of the risk of asymptomatic transmission and the impossibility of knowing who in a crowd is vaccinated and who is not. 

Does that mean we should ignore the new guidelines and remain locked in fear? 

Not at all. The new steps are practical ones in the light of good data that transmission is low outdoors, and that the vaccines remain protective. We can, and should, relish the opportunity to breathe a little easier. 

But we shouldn't stop wearing masks in crowds, or indoors around groups or around higher-risk, unvaccinated people. If you aren't vaccinated, I hope you'll still give strong consideration to doing so. If you still have hesitations, your physician will be more than happy to talk through them with you. We have come so far in this last year and a few months, and to let up on our vigilance now when the finish line finally seems to be on the horizon would be, I believe, a disgrace to the ones we've lost. 

Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.


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