Finally, Some Good COVID-19 News

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Following a year of lives lost, lockdowns, isolation, and economic suffering, a sense of hope is rising among medical experts and the country that the battle with COVID-19 can be won.

Premier Health Now spoke with Roberto Colón, MD, Premier Health vice president of quality and safety and chief medical officer at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, about the progress being made and the challenges still ahead in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everything we're seeing right now is incredibly encouraging,” Dr. Colón says. “We're seeing drops in the number of people who are in the hospital related to COVID. We're seeing fewer people who have the illness. We’re seeing newer preventative measures coming out.”

He continues, “We're very encouraged that we can beat COVID, and we can really take it all the way down into just a nuisance of a disease. But we're not there yet.”

Dealing With Variants

Variants of the virus — with one or more mutations of the predominant coronavirus — have made their way to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. The concern, according to Dr. Colón, is that they could be easier to pass from one person to another. Some may be able to elude antibodies people have formed and cause a more severe infection.

“While we are seeing some variants throughout the U.S., they are not the most common strain we are circulating,” Dr. Colón says. “The earlier we are able to control the amount of COVID out in the population, the less of a chance there is going to be for one of these variants to become the dominant virus that we are seeing in our communities.”

He urges continuing to follow guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Protect yourself and others against COVID-19 by wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart, avoiding crowds, washing your hands, and getting vaccinated when it’s available to you.

The Game Changer: Vaccines

“The coronavirus vaccines are an absolute game changer. Vaccines are going to totally alter how we move through the rest of the pandemic,” Dr. Colón states.

The medical community has been cautious not to over-promise the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines without supporting data, causing some in the general population to question their effectiveness. As data begins rolling in, however, it’s showing in large numbers that the vaccine is preventing people from getting either severe or asymptomatic infections, Dr. Colón reports.

News worth celebrating about vaccines includes:

  • Johnson & Johnson received its emergency use authorization in early March, offering a third option for preventative therapy in the U.S. “Studies have shown that it is 100 percent effective in keeping people out of the hospital or dying from COVID,” Dr. Colón emphasizes.
  • New guidance from the CDC says fully vaccinated individuals two weeks past their final shot may safely gather with small groups from other vaccinated households without masks or social distancing. They also can visit with unvaccinated people from a single household if those people are low risk.
  • People fully vaccinated don’t need to quarantine or be tested if they are exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus but are not showing symptoms —unless the exposure happens in a crowded place where there is an increased risk of spread.
  • If you do happen to get the virus after you get a vaccine (whether it’s Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), it will be a much milder course than if you were not vaccinated.
  • “There is a growing amount of evidence that the vaccines available do work for some of the variants,” Dr. Colón adds. “And even some of the companies have the ability to tweak the vaccine a little bit to boost further the effectiveness against some of the variants.”

Proceed With Caution

As Americans enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to resume some normalcy, Dr. Colón urges people not to abandon all precautions in the short term.

“This is not the time to loosen up too much. This is not the time to abandon masks and to start large gatherings again,” he says.

“This is the time to really make sure that we're paying attention to those same techniques that we have been following for the past year to make sure that we can continue beating this down. Get the vaccine when you can, so that by the time fall rolls around, we are going to hopefully not be talking about COVID much at all.”

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Roberto Colón, MD

System Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Quality and Safety for Premier Health