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I'm an ER Doctor and Urge You Read This Now

Be safe out there. The pandemic is “not over yet but the end is hopefully near.”

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined since the summer but the pandemic is not over. We have made tremendous headway and have vaccinated 67.1% of the US population but, unfortunately, the pandemic is still continuing. The recent resurgence of covid infections in the UK should highlight the resilience of this virus and the dangers that still remain. Of note, the UK is experiencing a surge in disease in spite of boasting a higher vaccination rate than the US. There has been some speculation that part of this may have been fueled by premature reopening and return to "normal" activity. 

In the United States, to date, over 46 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and 749,876 have died from infections. As noted above, our hospitalization and death rates have significantly decreased since the peak of the surge over this past summer. However, we still have around 70 million eligible but unvaccinated individuals in this country and every reason to still be concerned. With respect to the unvaccinated, they are certainly susceptible to severe disease and spreading the virus. In addition, in spite of numbers being down from the recent peak, we are still recording an average of 70,431 cases per day (7-day average) and over 1,000 deaths per day as well. With the winter rapidly approaching, we need to take stock of the current situation and remain vigilant. 

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Some good news is that, in addition to vaccines, we have new antiviral medications that may assist with combatting COVID-19. Both Merck (Molnupiravir) and Pfizer (Paxlovid) have created antiviral medications that can be taken in pill form and promise to significantly decrease potential death and hospitalization. If approved for Emergency Use Authorization, these medications can prevent hospitalization and death if given early in the course of the disease (within 3-5 days of symptoms). However, this is not a panacea. The best way to prevent hospitalization and death is still vaccination. Also, simple interventions like wearing masks indoors, distancing and hand washing are effective means to limit infections. 

With respect to vaccination, Pfizer is now EUA approved for children 5-11. This means that roughly 28 million children are now eligible for vaccination. Personally, my wife and I were elated about this decision. The vaccine is safe and extremely effective (90.7%) in preventing disease and hospitalization/death. Our son was vaccinated today and we celebrated with Dairy Queen after he received the shot. Certainly, providing immunity to this population will help combat the spread of the virus and protect our children. Notably, over 8,600 children in this age group have been hospitalized with covid and 143 have died. 

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So, the question is whether this is the last surge and whether the pandemic is now over. Sadly, it is not over yet but the end is hopefully near. What can we expect this winter? Well, respiratory viruses are somewhat seasonal and we can expect that they may transmit more easily in the dry air of winter. Also, the cold winter months may cause more people to congregate indoors and, thus, promote more spread. So, there may be a difficult winter ahead. Hopefully, it will be better than the winter of 2020 given the large amount of vaccine that has been administered. Only time will tell, but it is not the time to drop our guard. Also, new variants, including delta plus have evolved, and other variants may still be on the horizon. Again, only time will tell and we should not drop our guard. Finally, hospitals across the country are dealing with a significant nursing shortage. This has limited staffed beds and resources and may prove to create a challenging situation this summer as well.

For now, we should continue to remain hopeful but vigilant. This may not be the end, but every day we are getting closer to the conclusion of this unprecedented infectious disease crisis. 

Be safe out there! And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Darren P. Mareiniss, MD, FACEP
Darren P. Mareiniss, MD, FACEP is an Emergency Medicine Doctor who also practices critical care. Read more about Darren