As some US companies begin asking people to return to the office and governors lift mask mandates, talk has emerged of life after the Covid-19 pandemic in America. But infectious disease experts aren’t quite ready to declare that it’s safe for individuals, rather than governments and health officials, reports The Guardian.
Decline in cases
“I think it’s probably reasonable not to get too cocky at this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “I welcome the decline in cases that we are seeing in the US and a number of other countries, and I think you can both celebrate the sunshine while also keeping an umbrella close by for the possibility that rain could occur.”
The numbers of Covid cases and hospitalizations in the United States have decreased by 67% and 38% over the last two weeks, according to data from the New York Times.
Amid that decline, Democratic governors in Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon have recently lifted at least some parts of the masking mandates.
Reopening of companies
US companies, most notably, Microsoft, have also announced plans to reopen their facilities and asked employees to return. And Amazon, where many people already worked in person, announced that it would not require fully vaccinated employees to wear masks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Anna Bershteyn, assistant professor in the department of population health at New York University, thinks more companies will ask employees to return once their surrounding county drops at least to a level of “substantial transmission,” meaning less than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents. Companies will also consider the vaccination levels of their workforce and the severity of a new variant, among other factors, Bershteyn said.
She recommends employers use a framework of “always measures,” such as increasing clean air exchanges in indoor spaces; and ensuring that workers are fully vaccinated and stay home when sick; “sometimes measures,” when case numbers are higher, such as mandating masks and proof of vaccination to be on the premises; and “rarely measures,” such as temporarily closing a business.
Also, “people can reduce their risk in the long term for Covid-19 by improving general health, so taking the opportunity when transmission is low to catch up on any health care that has been missed … staying on top of weight, exercise and diet; and recovering economic losses and educational losses; and really importantly, restoring some of the social connections and those activities that are really important to a person’s wellbeing,” said Bershteyn.
Soaring cases caused by omicron
But Justin Lessler, an epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina, says that while the numbers of Covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations have recently plummeted, the fact that the Omicron spike was so much higher than previous waves has misled people into thinking that they no longer need to wear masks or avoid mass gatherings. The US daily average of cases and hospitalizations on 16 February were about 124,000 and 81,000, according to the Times.
Before removing precautions, Lessler said he would like to see Covid levels like late June 2021 – before the Delta wave – when the daily averages of new cases and hospitalizations were about 12,000 and 16,000.
Modeling shows the US could achieve that around late March, he said.
Cannot be treated yet
William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, also thinks that we cannot yet treat the virus as though it is endemic.
“Some governors think we are almost there are already – they are dropping mask mandates – and my response is: good luck to you,” said Schaffner. “My fingers are crossed on your behalf.”
Almost the entire country remains at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as high transmission of the virus, meaning a seven-day daily average of more than 100 new Covid cases per 100,000 residents.
Nuzzo, the Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, also thinks that the country needs to end its binary thinking on precautions, “that we either care about the virus and are trying to do something about it – or we’re not,” she said.
Nuzzo and other epidemiologists also do not take it as a given that a new variant won’t emerge that overcomes the population’s immunity against the virus.
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Source: The Guardian