As of May 11th, the federal government is repealing the Covid Public Health State of Emergency. Both locally and nationally, there have been significant declines in the number of covid infections, hospitalizations, and deaths during the past two months. No worrisome variants have emerged since last year. This post will address what the end of the state of emergency means for your health and possibly your wallet. Calvert County has had the lowest rates of covid hospitalizations and deaths of any of Maryland’s 24 counties. If we had been “average”, close to 500 additional Calvert residents would have been hospitalized and 100 additional Calvert residents would have died during the pandemic. We have achieved such good outcomes because of the hard work of our community’s healthcare workers, close work between public health staff and community nursing homes, businesses, minority organizations, and religious congregations, in addition to the actions of residents across our county to take reasonable precautions, including keeping up with vaccinations. It is important to note that although recent infection and hospitalization rates are far below what we’ve seen during much of the previous 3 years, covid continues to spread and some hospitalizations and deaths continue to occur. This spring, during an average week, 1-2 Calvert residents have been hospitalized because of covid infections. Fortunately, no Calvert residents have died as a result of covid since mid-March. In addition to serious acute illness, even mild covid infections can result in what is termed “long covid”. This condition is a constellation of symptoms including chronic fatigue, cloudy thinking, ongoing respiratory problems (particularly problematic for asthmatics of any age), and most worrisome, we are seeing higher rates of diabetes, stroke, and heart attacks in the year following a covid infection. These short and long-term complications are due to the greater inflammatory reactions triggered by covid than those caused by infections like influenza. The best means of protection against covid remains vaccination. Vaccination has proven to be superior to the protection people get after being infected with covid (“natural immunity”). People who are properly vaccinated/boosted are 5-times less likely to get long covid symptoms and 5-times less likely to get sick enough to require hospitalization than unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination is recommended for everyone from 6 months-old to 106 years-old, whether or not they have had a previous covid infection. Bivalent boosters, available since last September, provide greater protection against the currently circulating virus strains than the original vaccine formulation. Vaccine monitoring continues to show an excellent safety record comparable to well-established vaccines for influenza and tetanus. For those who oversee businesses, daycares, and houses of worship, if you enhanced air ventilation/circulation/filtration in response to covid, it is worthwhile to continue these measures indefinitely. Improved air ventilation/circulation/filtration will reduce the incidence of infections from all types of respiratory viruses and bacteria. These ongoing measures will
decrease illnesses among your staff and all who use your facilities. Everyone is encouraged to keep up with covid boosters. For those who are currently up-to-date, it's likely that a booster in the fall will be recommended. For those of any age who have high-risk medical conditions, they should continue to use face masks when they are in settings with significant exposure to the public. Despite the swirl of conflicting information on internet sites, good scientific studies have shown that face coverings significantly reduce the risk of infection from airborne bacteria and viruses, including covid. During the public health state of emergency, the federal government was purchasing vaccine and medication doses and making them available to individuals without charge. With the end of the emergency, these federal purchases will cease. There are existing stockpiles of vaccine and medication. These vaccines and medications will continue to be available without cost to individuals. But at some point over the coming months, stockpiles will be exhausted and both vaccinations to prevent and medications to treat covid will come with copays similar to those used for other infectious diseases. As a community, we did very well relative to other areas of Maryland and across America. With that being noted, we need to prepare for the possibility of both seasonal outbreaks like we see with influenza each year, and the potential for new variants that could trigger waves of infections and serious illnesses at any point. As they say on Wall Street, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." This virus has taught us that it is both unpredictable and more deadly than the flu. We don’t need to be anxious, but we should stay vigilant. If new variants appear, we now understand the actions we need to take to protect ourselves, our family members, and our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.
Have a healthy and happy spring!