Understanding the New COVID-19 Situation: What You Need to Know

    Posted by Sean Timm

    There have been plenty of discussions devoted to the ‘new normal,’ but the truth is the particulars of that situation might be changing faster than anyone initially thought. Recent COVID-19 updates include everything from spiking case numbers to a lower death rate and an ever-evolving understanding of the coronavirus. Taken together, the pandemic has changed dramatically over the past few months. 

    Evidence Mounts for Airborne Spread of the Virus

    Citing evidence from multiple studies, 239 scientists published a letter pushing national and international organizations to acknowledge the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading through airborne transmission.

    Calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) in particular to update safety guidance, the letter states, “Hand washing and social distancing are appropriate, but in our view, insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people.”

    The letter continues, “People may think that they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations, but in fact, additional airborne interventions are needed for further reduction of infection risk.”

    The additional protections the group of scientists advocates for include effective ventilation, extra air filtration, and even germicidal ultraviolet lights.

    Surging COVID-19 Case Numbers Are Everyone’s Responsibility

    Speaking with JAMA Editor in Chief Dr. Howard Bauchner M.D. earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), outlined what he sees as the most crucial current information we have about the coronavirus. Namely, people need to wear masks.

    As reopening commenced around the country, he explained, we saw widespread evidence of people congregating in bars and other social locations without masks, making it “highly predictable that you are going to get into trouble." 

    “What we need to emphasize to people is that even in the areas that are not showing a substantial surge, once you get surges like that [seen in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California], other areas become vulnerable… You’ve got to remember that we’re all in this together and we have to take some societal responsibility.” That includes wearing masks and continuing to socially distance

    Lower Death Rates Show a Possible Shift in the Spread

    During the same interview, Fauci touched on the dropping death rates around the country. The people getting infected now are substantially younger, by an average of about 15 years, than those initially infected. Nationwide, our protections of the elderly have improved, meaning those most at risk of severe illness or death following infection are experiencing a lower degree of exposure.

    With higher infection numbers overall, however, there is still just as much reason to be cautious. Even if younger individuals die less frequently from COVID-19, the spread is a threat to everyone. Just recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their COVID-19 guidelines, removing the "65 or older" distinction for high risk, claiming it did not adequately highlight the continued risk below 65 years of age. 

    Plus, despite what might look like good news concerning the death rates, Fauci cautioned, “We may be seeing a delay,” due to a lack between the current reality and the data we can collect. “So, be careful. As the weeks go by, we may be seeing the uptick of the deaths.”

    Vaccine Development is Moving Forward

    While infection numbers have never been worse in the United States, efforts to create a vaccine have hit significant milestones. Still aiming for a January 2021 release of a vaccine through the federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” measures, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a network to enroll volunteers in clinical tests. The COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (COVPN) builds on similar networks originally established to test HIV and other infectious disease vaccines. 

    “Each of the Phase 3 clinical trials that the COVPN will conduct will require thousands of volunteers,” explains NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D. “Community engagement, particularly with the communities most vulnerable to COVID-19’s severe outcomes, will be critical to the success of this research endeavor.”

    The first of the trials, scheduled to take place this summer, will test a vaccine in development with biotech company Moderna. 

    For more updates on ways to protect your practice and patients, visit our COVID-19 Resource Hub.

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