Reminder: The Pandemic Isn’t Over Yet
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Despite mask guidelines and public restrictions loosening across the country, it is vital to remember that we are still not out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this blog, we have compiled some questions and answers you may have about how to proceed in this liminal space as the pandemic winds to a close but isn't over just yet.
Question: When will the pandemic be over?
Answer: Nobody really knows.
Historically, pandemics end once they transition into an endemic. An endemic is a prevalent and not very serious illness, like the common cold, that rotates in a seasonal pattern throughout the year. This is because viruses don’t just disappear or completely fade out of the population. For example, the recent H1N1 virus is a modern-day descendant of the Spanish flu virus of 1919. But while H1N1 is a descendant of the Spanish flu, it did not come close to the deadliness of its originator.
This is because over time our immune systems adapt to pathogens we are exposed to and adjust in order to better fight them off. It is likely that COVID-19 will not disappear anytime soon, but rather it will fade into a seasonal illness as our immune systems react and are better equipped to protect us.
The question of when will COVID-19 transition into an endemic is unknown. Concerningly, some epidemiologists, including the WHO’s leading coronavirus expert, expected we would already be in this phase by now. But variants and vaccine hesitation have caused COVID-19 to remain uncontrollable.
Question: Can I take off my mask in public?
Answer: Only if you’re vaccinated and in certain situations.
According to the CDC, people are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine. As of May 13th, the CDC nearly completely opened up guidelines for the fully vaccinated. Such activities include:
You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.
You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
If you travel in the United States, you do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.
However, if you live or work in a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.
However, these new guidelines are not 100% liberating, you still have to follow the mask guidances of private businesses or local governments. For example:
You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
Many public schools still require masks.
Most stadiums and concert venues are requiring masks.
Many museums including the Museum of Modern Art in NYC will require all visitors and staff to wear masks for the foreseeable future.
Kroger, Giant Eagle, and other grocery stores still require masks.
Question: So how will I know who is vaccinated and who is not?
Answer: You won’t.
As mask restrictions are nearly gone in public places, there is no way to determine who is and who is not vaccinated. The new guidelines are completely reliant on the honor system, as there is no nationwide system that will identify whether someone has been vaccinated or not. And unfortunately, unvaccinated Americans are more than twice as likely to feel comfortable not wearing a mask.
With this statistic in mind, it is probably not the best idea to ditch your mask altogether. Especially because the vaccine does not entirely eradicate your risk of catching COVID-19. As of April 14th, 5,814 fully vaccinated people have developed COVID-19 infections according to the CDC. 93% of these people did not have a severe case, but 7% were hospitalized and 1% died of the disease. This statistic should not scare you, as this is exceptionally rare- 84 million Americans saw full immunity. But you should keep this in mind next time you go out in public.
Moreover, researchers are still not 100% sure that vaccinated people cannot spread COVID-19. More research still needs to be performed on this subject, but if vaccinated individuals can catch COVID-19, it is easy to surmise they can still spread it. Be wary of this next time you are in public without a mask, especially if you are unvaccinated.
Question: Do I really need both doses of an mRNA vaccine?
The two doses perform different functions and deliver different levels of immunity.
The first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is when mRNA is introduced into your cells, and the ability to recognize the virus is created. This process takes 2-3 weeks, explaining the delay between the two shots. After the first dose, your risk of infection is lowered by 72%.
The second dose of the vaccine assists the immune system in building your long-term defenses against the virus. This process takes around 2 weeks, hence the delay in when the CDC considers you to be fully vaccinated. After the second dose, your risk of infection is lowered by 80%.
While this difference may not seem great, there are important limitations that accompany only having one dose of an mRNA vaccine. For example, technically, you should not be in public without a mask with only one dose of the vaccine. Further, for special events or international travel that require proof of vaccination, only one dose will not cut it.
Question: What about vaccine passports?
Answer: As of May 2021, nothing is clear.
Several countries, including Israel and Denmark, have already created platforms that function as digital health passports. The digital health passports, also known as vaccine passports, operate on a smartphone that will allow easy access to an individual’s health data- such as vaccination status or COVID-19 test results.
This will streamline the border process for countries like Greece and Iceland that have recently opened borders but also require international travelers to show proof of vaccination. A digital vaccine passport will also work against the easily forgeable paper vaccine cards that Americans are provided.
Some American states have already tested out a digital health passport. New York issued the first digital vaccine passport using IBM’s Excelsior Pass app that shows a personalized QR code verifying vaccine status. The Brooklyn Nets basketball game and a New York Rangers hockey game were two of the first trials for the passport. However, several other state governors have issued executive orders “banning” vaccine passports in their states. Moreover, the White House Press Secretary said “there will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credit.” So it seems unlikely that the federal government will make any steps towards mandating a vaccine passport anytime soon.
Question: What should I be doing in the meantime?
Answer: Use this time to work towards optimal health!
As the world slowly begins to return to normalcy, this is a good time to reflect on the lessons the past year and change has taught us- especially in regards to our health. For many Americans, the overwhelming threat of a deadly virus was enough to force them to get real about their health. Further, because people were stuck inside, 60% of Americans reported cooking more at home and 25% have increased their fruit and vegetable intake. Moreover, according to a national survey, 75% of American participants have adopted at least one new wellness-related habit since 2019. And while these are all very positive steps, Americans are still lagging behind in terms of overall health.
Americans are not as healthy as we like to think. Life expectancy is decreasing. Rates of stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease are all on the rise. Further, more than 1 in 3 American adults are prediabetic. Given all these statistics, it is not surprising that only 12% of Americans are considered to be metabolically healthy. Poor metabolic health increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Poor health can all lead to a weakened immune system and lowered vaccine efficacy. Maybe, had Americans not been so unhealthy, the pandemic would not have devastated our country to the point it did. Moreover, because we know COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, it is critical that we take steps to prioritize our health and ensure the pandemic isn’t going to return in full force.
The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here.
If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at email@example.com or call 276-235-3205.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!