The COVID Digest, 23Oct2022
When will the winter wave begin?
I’ll start today’s newsletter with a story. My husband recently traveled for work and brought home an ugly respiratory infection. He missed work for a few days as a result. He’s tested negative for COVID-19 several times and his physician ran tests for other viral infections too. So far, we have no idea what it is/was. Once he began feeling better we joked that traveling via mass transit without a mask (which is what he had done) was tantamount to licking a public handrail. Many of us have a goal of avoiding illness, whether it is COVID-19 or not. We’re busy people, we have things to do and things we don’t want to miss. Plus being sick just stinks. It might not be wise to rely only on your COVID-19 and flu shot to protect you from all the infections that are possible. A high quality mask, however, can help protect us from multiple threats.
I’m certainly not here to shame my husband. I can’t fault anyone for getting sick. There was a time during his illness that he wondered how and where he caught this bug. And that gave us an opportunity to talk about risk. But I think this story is not all that unusual or uncommon given the way that our society has “moved on” from COVID-19. I think there is still a desire to go back to the way things were prior to the pandemic, as though we’ve learned nothing about how disease spreads. But why would we do that? I’m not saying that people need to wear masks all the time, like we did through parts of the pandemic. But we have learned a lot about high risk situations. When confronting a high risk situation, perhaps it’s best to bring some disease prevention strategies with you?
What does a high risk situation look like? To me, the risk goes up any time I’m in an indoor gathering with people I don’t know and whose risk avoidance attitude is unknown. Do I know these people well enough to know that they wouldn’t intentionally bring an infection to this gathering? Do I know them well enough to know that they stay up to date on their vaccines? Do I trust that they are the sort to regularly wash their hands? The larger the indoor gathering, the more risk it entails. If I’m going into a healthcare facility (clinic or hospital), I’m wearing the mask the entire time. Healthcare is a resource people seek out WHEN THEY ARE SICK. This is a good thing, that’s what healthcare is there for. But it does mean that the risk of exposure to illness goes up in that setting.
What kinds of things can we do to avoid infection from a variety of threats? First, I do think it’s important to stay up to date on recommended vaccines. This includes the flu shot and COVID-19 boosters. If you’ve not received a COVID-19 booster within the past two months, it’s time to get the updated bivalent booster. Take care of yourself by getting adequate rest, staying hydrated, and eating a diverse diet. In high risk settings, wear a high quality mask, wash your hands regularly (or take advantage of hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available/practical), and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
In about 2 weeks I’m planning to travel by airplane. I will be wearing a mask for the entire time I am in airports or on an airplane. That’s because I am traveling for a reason and I don’t want to miss the events that are happening at my destination. When I return from my trip, I have classes to teach and a division to run. I can’t afford to be out due to an infection that I had the power to prevent.
Miraculously, our boys and I have avoided catching my husband’s infection. As a family, I think we’ve taken some risks as COVID-19 disease levels have been low. But I’m vigilant about monitoring data for signs that COVID-19 disease might be picking up in our local area, including wastewater surveillance. We are starting to see some indications that disease spikes have begun overseas, and I think we are starting to see some warning signs in the US as well.
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