Longer days and sunny weather in March suggest springtime is near, increasing our desire to see life return to a more normal pattern. Simple activities like going to a movie, museum, or café are goals we set for ourselves. But many people are already doing these activities. When others go without masks and social distance precautions, we are faced with choices about our own actions and how much risk we are willing to take. After a year of this pandemic and over 500,000 dead Americans many people naturally, and rightly, remain cautious about fully resuming “normal” in daily life.
There is good news to guide us. The CDC Interim Recommendations begin with people who are fully vaccinated. People meeting the criteria may allow others who are also fully vaccinated into their home – and no masks are required! This is a first step out of the constraints used to slow the spread of this virus and it’s coming now because 9.2% of Americans are FULLY vaccinated. Fully vaccinated means the completion of the final dose of the vaccine AND two weeks following that dose to develop immunity. If you meet this criterion, and your friends have as well, then springtime is the right time to gather together safely in your home.
Until we reach the “magic” number for herd immunity through vaccination, we need to monitor our choices based on the risk of exposure. There are unknows with the COVID variants that are circulating so using a thoughtful approach to decisions on travel, dinning etc. will allow you to risk mitigate for yourself.
Some of the questions we are all asking:
- Can I drive to another city to visit a good friend who is exhausted by a year of pandemic living?
- Should I book an airline ticket to visit family?
- Do I go to a favorite restaurant if it is still too cold for outdoor dining?
- What degree of risk am I willing to take…vaccinated…or not vaccinated?
These are real life decisions millions of us are considering today. Although it comes down to individual risk tolerance there are evidence-based resources to guide your thinking.
Questions to ask yourself first:
- Do I have one or more of health risks? Diabetes, obesity or respiratory problems like asthma?
- Have I completed Advanced Directives for healthcare, should I require it?
- If I become infected, will I be placing someone in my household at risk?
COVID Act Now is a key resource filled with helpful information about national trends as well as your own county’s status. If you are considering traveling by plane to visit family, you can use it to gauge the amount of viral spread in their county on the interactive map.
The key metrics that you can use to gauge your own risk tolerance include: daily new cases per 100K (incidence), infection rate (Rt), and test positivity.
- Daily new cases, also known as “incidence” in epidemiology, represents the current amount of COVID in a community.
- Infection rate is the direction and speed of growth. For instance, daily new cases may be low, but if infection rate is high, then we know that daily new cases will be high in the near future.
- Positive test rate is a measure of our confidence in the underlying data. For instance, if daily new cases and infection rate are both low, but test positivity is high, then the lack of sufficient testing suggests that we are not capturing the true levels of COVID and both daily new cases and infection rate are actually higher than what is currently reported.
The site also links to each county, for more detail, and you can opt-in for alert updates. The information is helpful in determining the likelihood of being exposed. The site has also added a new link to show the vaccination level in the states.
Two additional websites are helpful in gaining more understanding of how the virus is moving around the world: Johns Hopkins and BBC will provide you with comparisons between countries.
All of this may seem like a great deal of work to make a decision about visiting friends or going to a restaurant, but until our nation reaches the threshold of protection through vaccinations the virus, and its variants (particularly P1 from Brazil) will continue to be a significant risk. A year later, it is still, ultimately up to each one of us to mitigate the spread of this dangerous virus.
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