Marysabel E. Huston-Crespo
(CNN Spanish) – Countries around the world are beginning to live a new normal or at least learning to live with covid-19. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a document outlining new measures to control the pandemic.
What is it about? In this episode Dr. Elmer Huerta explains it.
You can listen to this episode on Spotify or your favorite podcast platform, or read the transcript below.
Already in the third year of the great pandemic of 2019, and with the dominance of the omicron variant on the planet, the control of the pandemic —at least in developed countries— is taking a new direction.
As we heard in the episode of February 14, several European countries are already relaxing their control measures to varying degrees, and it is expected that in that region, the month of April will already be a relative return to pre-pandemic normality.
What the CDC says about the new post covid-19 normal
The United States is no exception, and in a document published on February 25, “Covid-19 Levels in the Community: A Measure of the Impact of Covid-19 Disease on Health and Health Care Systems,” the CDC update their new infection control approach. Today we will see some practical details of these new measures.
The general and fundamental concept to understand the new CDC rules is to examine the evolution of the pandemic in relation to the variants that cause infections.
In that sense, the pandemic caused by the original wild variant from Wuhan is different from that caused by the alpha variant, and is different from that caused by the delta variant, which, in turn, is completely different from that caused by the variant current omicron.
What is the fundamental difference?
The answer is the enormous impact that the previous variants had on the health systems of all the countries through which the pandemic passed, health systems that were collapsed by the enormous number of patients who needed hospitalization and intensive care.
Deaths in the corridors of hospitals, in the houses and even in the streets, were the disastrous consequences of the infection by the first variants of the new coronavirus.
In that context, the most important indicator we had of the course of the pandemic—besides the number of hospital and intensive care beds that were occupied—was the total number of infections that were occurring.
This is because there was a direct mathematical relationship between the number of infections and the probability of collapse of health systems.
What you have now, however, is different.
The role of vaccination in controlling the pandemic
Now we have a population with high levels of immunity thanks to vaccination and natural infection, and the appearance of a variant such as the omicron, which despite causing a very high number of infections, has happily not managed to collapse health services of the countries in which it has become dominant.
That explains why – to determine the community level of covid-19 and decide on public health policies, such as the use of masks in the community for example – the new CDC document gives greater emphasis to the number of patients admitted to the hospital with covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 7 days, and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by patients with covid-19.
These indicators, under the current circumstances, give a better idea of the community impact of the pandemic.
In that sense, the total number of new cases of covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 7 days is still an important indicator, but -as it is a better measure of the danger of collapse of health systems- much more important are hospitalization levels and the availability of hospital beds.
The risk calculation
Using those three indicators, the CDC determines the community level of covid-19 in three groups: low, medium or high, and offers an online calculator, which helps the public determine the risk of contagion in their community, and therefore if should or should not wear masks in closed spaces for example.
What’s interesting about this approach is that if they were just going by the number of COVID-19 cases in the community, as they have in the past, 99% of people in the United States would have to wear masks. On the contrary, by introducing the other two indicators, around 70% of inhabitants live in places where masks are not necessary.
This document is an excellent example of how public health policies should be guided: based on local epidemiological data. Not all regions within the same country or even within a region within a country have the same indicators, so it is not likely that they all have to be guided by the same health policies.
Recommendations for listeners
In the practical aspect, we suggest to you our listeners that you follow the instructions of the place where you live, and that you continue to take care of yourself, especially people over 65 years of age and those with conditions that predispose them to complications, such as:
obesity, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, transplant recipients, people who suffer from cancer and are on dialysis for chronic kidney diseases.
That care includes:
Full vaccination, including the booster dose and the fourth dose if your country recommends it, in addition to the use of masks in closed and unventilated spaces.
Do you have questions about covid-19?
Send me your questions on Twitter, we’ll try to answer them in our next episodes. You can find me at @Drhuerta.
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