Virus Experts Just Gave This New COVID Warning—Even If You're Vaccinated
There are protection measures to be aware of even as numbers are declining.
As we start to move out of the harsh winter season and coronavirus numbers continue to fall, we're all cautiously optimistic about the prospect of a COVID-free spring and summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new infections have dropped 43 percent in the last week, while virus-related hospital admissions have fallen by 28 precent. And given the fact that several state officials have now started stripping back mask requirements and vaccine mandates, there is a real feeling that the COVID pandemic is on its way out. But heading toward the clearing doesn't mean you're out of the woods yet.
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In a new interview with The Washington Post, several virus experts warned that COVID is still very much a part of our lives. "The pandemic, whether we want to believe it or not, is still happening," Michael Mina, MD, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at eMed, told the newspaper. Even when it's gone, Mina said it's unlikely that COVID-19 will stay away forever. "This virus is going to turn out to be seasonal; it is going to come back," he said.
Many experts, like Gigi Gronvall, PhD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, have said it's important to realize that the world is never going to look like it did before the pandemic. "2019 doesn't exist anymore," she told The Washington Post. With that in mind, certain COVID restrictions and precautions might never be fully out of our lives.
In regards to mitigation measures, "it doesn't have to be an on-off thing," Mina told the newspaper. Instead, you can use and layer what we've picked up over the past two years depending on what the situation demands.
"Masking, avoiding crowded areas, these are all tools we can use and mix and match as needed," Henry Wu, MD, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory TravelWell Center, told The Washington Post. "We're not going back to the previous normal … I think the new normal is using these tools to help protect ourselves."
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Some experts say it is important to look carefully at where you are when it comes to deciding if you need to be using certain precautions. "It really depends a lot on the place," Gronvall told The Washington Post. "Even if restrictions are relaxed, if you are still seeing substantial community transmission, you want to be aware of that."
States like California, Montana, and New Mexico have all lifted statewide indoor mask mandates this month, but according to the CDC, populous counties such as Los Angeles County, California; Yellowstone County, Montana; and Bernalillo County, New Mexico are all still dealing with high community transmission as of Feb. 22. "If you're indoors in an area with low community transmission, I think that's very different than indoors in a very crowded space where you're still seeing a lot of community spread," Saskia Popescu, PhD, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at George Mason University, explained to The Washington Post.
There are other tools virus experts are not willing to pack up just yet. Popescu told the newspaper that it would still be a good idea to continue doing the "due diligence" of testing before and after traveling, especially if you've had a recent COVID exposure. "As long as the tests are available, which they generally are … I think it's a pretty low ask to have people test themselves before traveling," Mina said.
When it comes to traveling, the federal mask mandate is currently only set to remain in place through March 18, but Mina told The Washington Post that even after it's no longer required, it makes sense to continue wearing a face covering while at airports, especially since you're surrounded by people who could be coming from places with substantial transmission. "I don't think I'll ever stop wearing a mask in airports," he told the newspaper.
Finally, some experts say it might even be a good idea to consider wearing a face covering whenever you're around a lot of people you don't know. "If you're in a tight crowd with strangers and you're not eating or drinking at the moment … personally, I'm going to wear a mask," Grovall told The Washington Post. Other virus experts recommend continuing to keep and push tools like vaccines, boosters, and stricter precautions when around immunocompromised people.
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