We're in a New Phase of COVID-19, but It's Not Over Yet: Staying Safe Together and Keeping Numbers Down
Jeffery Hatcher, MD, chief medical officer of Wesley Long Hospital, talks about the current state of COVID-19 and what we can all do to keep COVID numbers trending down in this week's 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
What do COVID-19 numbers look like right now in March 2021?
"So, as of right now, there have been 29 million cases of COVID worldwide. We've seen a significant drop off in the number of cases nationally and locally whereas in Greensboro in the Cone Health system in the middle of January, there were about 300 cases within our health system. Today [March 22, 2021], there were 50."
Is the COVID-19 pandemic over?
"This is not over. This is an infectious disease. It's going to be around for a while until we get everybody fully vaccinated."
Do we need to keep practicing the 3 W's in this next phase?
"Yes, those [3 W's] are still super important. If we look at the data from our analytics folks here at Cone Health, so much of the gains we've made have been from vaccines, but a lot of the gains are from our behavioral changes, whether we're masking, staying 6 feet apart, washing our hands - they've made huge changes and if we let those go, we're likely to see some regression."
If people stop practicing COVID safety, do you think numbers will go up?
"I'm very scared that we'll see a lot more cases [if people stop practicing the 3 W's]. I think that we have some gatherings coming up that could see some significant spikes in our area. Certainly, what's going on in Florida right now is sort of the test case for what could happen around things like spring break. Certainly Easter is a potential for a big big spreading event in terms of families getting together."
How important is it that people continue to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
"Yeah, our vaccination efforts are really key right now in terms of what's gonna happen for this infection going through this part of the year and then also going into the fall. We're really hoping to get vaccinations up to between 70 and 80% - or at least 70-80% percent of the population, so that'll give us a really great chance of getting what people would call herd immunity and then getting this under control."
What percentage of the total population needs to be vaccinated here in order to get back to more normalcy?
"So, we're hoping for around 70 to 80%... If you look at the North Carolina numbers, you know, it's only 20% of people have gotten their first vaccine and 13% have gotten their second. In Guilford County, we're about the same: 21% of people have gotten their first and 11% have completed the vaccine."
For people who may still be hesitant about getting the vaccine, what advice would you share?
"I think that the best advertisement for the vaccine are the people who've already gotten it. The majority of people never had any side effects from the vaccine. It was a very simple process, very well tolerated, no side effects. So, when I got the vaccine back in September through a clinical trial, I thought that I had gotten the placebo. So, I think most people don't really have any significant side effects or even even minor side effects from having gotten the vaccine."
What can we do to protect ourselves and each other from the new COVID-19 variants?
"The major variants right now are the UK strain, which there is some of in the United States. There's not a tremendous amount of it in North Carolina. Very few cases. And then the Brazil strain and then the South African strain. What we worry about though is increasing rates of contagiousness in terms of how spreadable they are within communities. There are also some differences, subtle differences in the way that they interact or they respond to the vaccine, but in terms of what to do to keep from getting them is really will rely on getting the vaccine, which will give you some protection, and then also maintaining those 3 W's."
What else can we do to keep COVID-19 numbers trending down and move toward more normalcy?
"A good friend of mine was just saying this weekend about how really sick of this she is and how tired she is of wearing mask, and I think that's very common right now after a year of this. And I think we're close, you know, and the more we stick to this right now in terms of sticking with getting our vaccines, washing our hands, keeping our distance of 6 feet, and wearing a mask, the more quickly we'll get to the finish line."