What You Need to Know Now about COVID-19
It’s been a busy month for infectious disease specialists around the globe, and for us here in Massachusetts as COVID-19 cases begin to rise. As I told WCVB-TV, I would not be surprised if we see 200,000 news cases per day in the United States in the weeks ahead. This is even more cases than we saw back in the spring.
It will take all of us to reduce the spread of this dangerous virus.
Here’s how to keep yourself safe.
Keep Your Mask On
In Massachusetts, officials issued an order that requires people five years of age and older to wear a mask in public, even if you can maintain more than six feet of social distancing.
I’d encourage you to mask up at home too, especially if you leave your “pod” often for work, the gym, or your kids are doing in-person learning. This is especially important if you live with people at risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19, such as the elderly, and people of any age with obesity, cancer, diabetes, or other conditions.
Why? According to recent state data, spread within households is causing the vast majority of new coronavirus infections in the Commonwealth. In some of these cases, members of a household interacting with another household have led to new COVID clusters. This ultimately leads to us being unable to control the spread within our state.
Always remember your COVID Infection Prevention Bundle (CIPB for short):
- Hand hygiene
- Maintain physical space
- Avoid crowds
- Ventilate shared indoor spaces
- Get tested when symptomatic, you’ve possibly been exposed, or before/after travel
Get Ready for an Unusual Holiday Season
Many people feel like infectious disease experts are acting like the Grinch this year, but we’re doing our best to give people a sense of what’s at risk if they hold holiday celebrations in-person. With household spread already causing most new cases, it’s critical that you keep your Thanksgiving invitation list very short this year—ideally just members of your own household around the physical table.
I know, nobody wants another Zoom holiday, but it’s important for the health of your loved ones.
If you do invite people from outside your bubble in, everyone should be tested before the holiday—including members of the host household. Wear a mask while not eating or drinking. Seats should be at least six feet apart from each other.
While it’s possible we’ll have another stretch of unseasonably warm weather, November in Massachusetts means most Thanksgiving meals will be eaten indoors. Whenever possible, open the windows to allow air to circulate. There is evidence that opening the windows, even just six inches, can improve the air circulation in rooms, which can help reduce transmission.
For a full list of best practices, visit the Centers for Disease Control guide.
And, of course, if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or are waiting for test results, remain in quarantine.
Don’t Bank on the COVID-19 Vaccine Yet
Drug companies are starting to announce exciting results from their late-stage clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The news of potentially successful COVID-19 vaccines is a huge step forward in the fight against this virus. But we can’t let our guard down yet.
Even if a vaccine is approved soon, it will take a herculean effort to distribute it safely and ensure those who need it most get it. It’s likely masking, physical distancing, and capacity limits in public spaces will continue well into 2021.
My colleague Simone Wildes, MD was recently named to the Baker-Polito administration’s vaccine advisory group. I’m thrilled we’ll have her advising our state officials on how to safely, effectively, and equitably vaccinate Bay Staters—with a focus on those at highest risk—when the time comes.
Treatments for COVID-19 Have Improved
In the spring, the world didn’t know much about COVID-19 or how to treat it. Thanks to tireless research, we now have a better sense of which treatments work best for which patients. Additionally, many of our new cases are in younger people, who are less likely to need critical care.
However, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are what we call a lagging indicator, meaning that we’re already in big trouble as a community by the time more people are in the hospital. And even if you survive a three-week stay in the intensive care unit, the stress it will cause your body—and your loved ones—just isn’t worth it.
We are at an inflection point right now which will determine our fate in the months ahead.
It’s critical that people of all ages stay focused on wearing their masks, limiting their exposure to others (especially indoors), washing their hands often, avoiding crowds, ventilating shared indoor spaces, and getting tested when they need it.
Continue to follow the guidance from your local officials and the CDC as we work to contain this next surge.