Dr. Farber’s COVID-19 Update

We are still not out of the woods, but numbers are finally starting to drop consistently, now that the holidays are over. The one potential blip is the Super Bowl, and we will see in the next two weeks whether that has caused an uptick.

When I say the numbers are dropping, we still have to take this in perspective. Thus, this past week saw less than 500,000 new cases in the United States. and less than 15,00 deaths. The first number is comparable to levels in mid-October, and the second mid-December. By way of comparison, however, in mid-June, when much of the country was in more severe lock-down, we were seeing less than 200,000 new cases, and less than 5000 deaths, per week. We still have a long way to go.

In Prince William County, this past week saw us dip below 1,000 new cases for the first time since mid-November, but deaths are still recording similar numbers to last month, 10 or so per week.

After many fits and starts, vaccines are finally starting to roll out. There has been concern about the new variants of COVID, but so far, the vaccine is holding up, perhaps not with the efficacy for the earlier variants, but still looking quite useful. Further data will answer this question. It is not surprising that the vaccine is still promising; for example, the flu virus mutates each year, but we still retain some protection against it (part of the reason why one needs two vaccines the first year, but only one subsequently).

Speaking of the flu vaccine, you may have read of a study suggesting that getting the flu vaccine helps mitigate against COVID-19. I’ve read this study, and it is not the world’s strongest; it was published in a journal called Cureus, and I’m not sure a journal with a pun for a name is the most rigourous out there. However, it does offer food for thought. This year, flu will be minimal, due to mask wearing, social distancing, etc., but I expect it to be back with a vengeance next year. As I have commented on before, I expect that next year, during flu season, although I will of course be vaccinated, and plan on eating out and seeing some movies, etc., I see myself wearing a mask for shopping. Do not be surprised if you also see me wearing one in the office, at least when seeing older children who will not be put off by it; at my age, I suppose I should be more active at protecting myself.

A big question is whether schools should reopen. President Biden is pushing for this to be done, at least up to eighth grade. We now have an abundance of evidence that younger children are very rarely superspreaders, especially if asymptomatic. I believe we can all see that on-line learning just does not cut it for younger children, and that the experience of being in a school enhances learning, so I strongly support this. I also believe that teachers should be high priority for getting vaccines, but that it is reasonable to open schools even without mass vaccination (although there will of course be some breakthrough cases).

To put into perspective how mild (comparatively) COVID-19 has been for children: children make up around one-fifth of the population. There have been around 2,000,000 cases in children in the United States, with 200 deaths. If adults had had the same numbers, we would have expected to see around 10,000,000 cases, and 1000 deaths (instead of almost 30,000,000 case, and 500,000 deaths).
As always, until the numbers are down much more substantially, mask wearing, good handwashing, and social distancing, for your sake and that of your friends and family, please.

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