Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota has been podcasting on COVID-19 since the pandemic began. I don’t always agree with him, but I appreciate his honest assessment of where we are with the coronavirus. Lately he’s been concerned that people are acting as though the virus is no longer a threat. I just got back from Minnesota and it’s true–the Mall of America, the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Rainforest Café are all bustling with activity. At the MSP Airport, I would estimate that less than 10% of the people were wearing masks.

These are unsettling times. Not only is the virus changing, but our reactions to it are changing. We always knew this would happen. The pressure was on from the summer of 2020 when Californians were told not to go to the beach, the fall of 2020 when every holiday was framed as a threat, and the spring of 2021 when people lined up for vaccinations, hoping that their lives could be normal again. Things are moving too fast for some and too slow for others. Science has advanced our knowledge of the virus, but science does not tell us what to do. It provides information, and we make the decisions. Three things we know: The virus has changed. The therapeutics have changed. And our immunity has changed, as more people have been exposed to viral antigens in one way or another over the last two years.

Here are some of the ways our responses are changing in the summer of 2022:

  1. Airline safety videos: Last December passengers and crew were shown wearing masks. This summer the ones I saw are not. Airports: Heathrow, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and San Diego did not require masks. LAX required masks when I was last there on July 25, 2022.
  2. Cruise ships: Changing right now. My survey on July 30, 2022, showed that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian required vaccinations for all guests over 12. Princess allowed 10% to be unvaccinated. Holland America required vaccinations and a negative test. Now Royal Caribbean and Princess are easing their requirements, depending on destination requirements and length of cruise. Norwegian will allow unvaccinated guests who test negative beginning Sept. 3, 2022. Holland America hasn’t changed. Of course the changing requirements of each visited country must be taken into account as well.
  3. CDC: CDC guidelines for cruise ships recommending vaccination have not changed yet. However, the CDC issued a press release on August 11, 2022, which
    1. Updates recommendations on isolation after exposure, testing positive, or illness
    2. Stops recommending screening tests of asymptomatic people in most community settings
    3. Updates social distancing to not recommending 6 feet separation in most settings.

Are they history? As far as I can tell, these social distancing signs are widely ignored these days.

The CDC press release has given rise to much criticism on Twitter, under the hashtag #CovidIsNot Over. Yesterday PBS aired an interview (link below) which brought up some reasons why the CDC may be going too far with loosening the guidelines. Briefly, the main arguments are:

  1. Vaccination coverage in school children is still quite low. Schools are indoors and crowded, presenting a high-risk environment.
  2. The CDC should define “layered mitigation” responses, such as mask mandates, in case of surges especially as we approach the fall.
  3. The 500 deaths a day, on average, is an unacceptably high number, with a lot of vulnerable people still at risk. The Twitter discussion also discusses the serious symptoms of long COVID.

The CDC press release, in return, says that we have a better understanding now of how to protect ourselves from the virus and more tools to use, saying “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our everyday lives.” The release ends by stating that in the coming weeks, the CDC will update guidelines for specific settings, such as healthcare settings, congregate settings, and travel. I, for one, am glad that we are moving on, for the sake of our own mental health.

Too much? Not enough? A Goldilocks moment? What do you think?

Today’s Notable Headlines

“More Cruise Lines to Start Allowing Unvaccinated Passengers on Board,” Travel & Leisure, Aug. 15, 2022. https://www.travelandleisure.com/cruises/carnival-princess-to-allow-unvaccinated-passengers

“Carnival Cruise bookings soar after it eases COVID testing requirements,” Yahoo Finance, Reuters, Aug. 16, 2022. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/carnival-cruise-bookings-soar-eases-170858055.html

“CDC New COVID Guidelines: Here Are the Top Changes to Know,” NBC Chicago, Aug. 13, 2022. https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/coronavirus/cdc-new-covid-guidelines-here-are-the-top-changes-to-know/2914256/

“Why the CDC is loosening some of its COVID-19 guidelines,” PBS, Aug. 15, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-the-the-cdc-is-loosening-some-of-its-covid-19-guidelines

Additional Sources:

Norwegian Cruise Lines: https://www.ncl.com/sail-safe

“Episode 110: A COVID Marathon,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, Podcast, CIDRAP, Aug. 4, 2022. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/covid-19/podcasts-webinars/episode-110

“CDC streamlines COVID-19 guidance to help the public better protect themselves and understand their risk,” CDC Press Release, Aug. 11, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0811-covid-guidance.html

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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