“It’s been a difficult two-and-a-half years and I know people are tired and that’s okay,” said Dr. Adia Ross, Chief Medical Officer at Durham Regional Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center. “We just can’t forget that Covid is still with us, there are still people who are vulnerable, and we must be flexible. The things we knew in the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 are different from the things we know now.”
Another Covid wave?
Looking at infection rates from the spring of 2020 up to the present, it’s clear cold weather favors the coronavirus. But researchers are guardedly optimistic the spread of Covid-19 this fall and winter won’t be as brutal as in the past.
There’s always the chance a new variant may emerge-that’s the biggest wild card. But the availability of reformulated boosters and the buildup of immunity against the latest strain of the virus could slow down a fall/winter spread.
“There’s a 50/50 chance we could see a moderate resurgence in the fall as the weather gets cooler and people move inside,” said Justin Lessler, Ph.D., a Professsor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. “But there’s nothing to indicate an omicron type wave is growing.”
Home tests make tracking tough.
Medical experts say several factors have conspired to make the state of the pandemic difficult to track.
The rise of at-home tests, while helpful for individuals, means those positive tests rarely make it into official case numbers with public health departments. That makes it challenging for public health officials to track where cases are spiking, what percentage of the population is vulnerable to Covid, and how the virus might evolve.
“I still think the vaccine, when we think of all the different things it’s supposed to be doing… preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death, has really held up,” adds Ross. “The people getting seriously ill are those who are unvaccinated or those that may be some predisposition as well as having multiple illnesses. For everyone else, the vaccines and boosters are still working.”
Many folks are wondering how, having escaped the virus during the worst of the pandemic, they are suddenly falling ill. Some people are even catching Covid for the second or even third time.
There is evidence new variants of omicron are making Covid reinfection more likely. It also appears the window in which past infection provide some immunity is shortening.
What’s your risk tolerance?
That’s why, even though on omicron type surge is unlikely, public health officials say individuals will need to judge their risk tolerance this fall and winter. The public is advised to get a Covid booster if possible. And if you are entering a crowded area, you may want to wear a mask.
“Vaccines, masks, and antivirals are all working, and these tools will be with us,” said Dr. Matt Koci, a virologist and immunologist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. “But as a society we need to ask how many Covid cases/deaths are we willing to live with and what is the risk tolerance each of us is willing to accept.”
“It’s really important to follow the CDC guidelines of five days in place and five more with a mask,” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, infectious disease expert at Duke Health and an Associate Professor at Duke University School of Medicine. “If you’ve had Covid and you’re still symptomatic you need to stay quarantined but if it has been five days and you’re asymptomatic (no fever and not taking meds to decrease the fever) you can leave quarantine and wear a high-quality mask for the duration of ten days.”