What we need to know about COVID-19 During the Holidays?
Holidays are upon us. We plan to travel and gather with family and friends. After almost three years of the pandemic, what do we need to know before the holidays?
What is the current situation around Covid-19 in the United States? The government has stopped providing free test kits, many people are Covid-positive without knowing. What does that mean for the rest of us, and how can we protect ourselves? Different states have different policies regarding Covid-19 – what do I need to know when traveling? Is it dangerous that most people are not wearing masks? How many vaccinations should I take? Why do we need to get vaccinated again? How safe are the vaccines?
Christine Von Raesfeld (Founder and CEO of People with Empathy) interviewed Dr. Desiree LaBeaud and Dr. David Vu, both pediatricians and infectious diseases experts.
What is the current state of Covid in the United States?
Dr. Vu said the rate of infections looks like it is going down, but that does not mean there is no Covid around. In Santa Clara, one in 1000 people is infected. Dr. LaBeaud also mentioned there are a lot of other respiratory viruses.
When asked if we can expect an uptick in Covid cases after Thanksgiving, Dr. LaBeaud said: “We always see an uptick in the number of infections whenever people congregate. How high that number will be, we do not know.”
What are their recommendations on how to protect yourself?
Both doctors concluded people were diligent about protecting themselves at the start of the pandemic. There were almost no respiratory viruses. Now they are back. You guard against respiratory viruses like against Covid (by wearing a mask and washing your hand frequently). As Dr. Vu mentioned: “A lot of respiratory viruses transfer the same way as Covid – by contact and droplets. Rules are more relaxed of late. That is why there is an increase in respiratory viruses.”
What are the recommendations for people who might have flu or Covid and don’t know they have it?
Dr. Vu stressed we need to exercise caution – whether it is Covid, RSV, or Influenza. If you are feeling sick, you shouldn’t expose others to your illness. It is on you to protect the people around you. Dr. LaBeaud thinks it is crucial if you are living with someone who has a less robust immune system.
What are recommendations to anyone showing symptoms?
While we want to get together with our family members, it is important to wear masks, wash hands, and limit potential exposure to people around you.
Now that the government isn’t offering free Covid tests, we will probably see many people forgoing the test altogether. Are there any recommendations?
Dr.Vu drew a comparison with Influenza. If you had it, you have some immunity. But getting the flu shot every year is your best chance at reducing the disease. Also, adopt the universal strategy for being healthy – wash hands and wear masks. It is not a huge burden for the gains you get.
What can we do to be productive rather than reactive about our health?
Both doctors agreed we should try to keep our bodies healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise, and eat well.
Antibodies testing is available in stores. Are people correct in thinking they are ok if they have antibodies?
Dr.Vu said: “Antibodies are important. But with Covid, it is not shown to be a surrogate of protection – it does not predict protection. You might have antibodies, but that does not necessarily mean you are protected. We assume so, and for many different diseases, that is the case. Many people get Covid multiple times – they have antibodies but they are not protected.”
Dr. LaBeaud also mentioned the importance of variants. The antibodies test is general and shows if you have antibodies. But it does not test if these particular antibodies will protect you from the dominant variant in circulation. We also don’t know how long these antibodies persist.
What are their recommendations for traveling or flying during the holidays?
Dr. Vu believes wearing a mask is a must. Dr. LaBeaud recommends asking airline staff to move you if you are sitting next to someone on the plane who keeps coughing. Also, airlines no longer carry masks, so make sure to take your own. Avoid opportunities to expose yourself – for example, if it is a short flight, Dr. LaBeaud will not eat. She also thinks the risk of flying isn’t in the airplane. Airlines circulate the air through HEPA filters, so the air on the airplane is often quite clean. Airports are potentially more dangerous. There are crowds of people not wearing masks. Keep your distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, and wipe down the area where you eat/sit. These are tools to use against most viral infections.
What would they say to naysayers?
Dr. LaBeaud understands people are tired and frustrated, and we all want to go to how things were. Do what you can to protect yourself in crowded places, especially if you have someone vulnerable at home. Dr. Vu agreed and concluded it is a matter of common courtesy and science.
How many vaccines should we get?
Dr. LaBeaud recommends getting all the vaccines. She predicts the situation with Covid vaccines will be similar to the Influenza vaccine. We will have to take it once a year and hope it will protect us. Dr. Vu said: “There are different vaccines and differences in their effectiveness. But getting one beats not getting any. All vaccines have been shown to induce some antibody response, and contribute to some immunity. ” Both Dr. LaBeaud and Dr. Vu wanted to dispel the myth vaccine or Covid infection can give you 100% protection. That is not always the case. Even if you had Covid, it does not mean you can’t get it again.
Their thoughts about the current situation as pediatricians?
Dr. Vu stated: “Kids get sick with stuff and transmit it. I am very pro-vaccine. There are a lot of studies that look at the safety of vaccines even before they go to humans.”
What would they say to someone who doesn’t want to get vaccinated?
Dr. LaBeaud thinks when people refuse vaccines, you have to find out why. What do they fear and where is the misinformation? But her conclusion is vaccines save lives and are the most powerful medical intervention of our lifetime.
Do they think Covid will get eradicated with time?
Dr. Vu does not think so. Coronaviruses have been with us for a long time, and we still don’t have a vaccine for the common cold.
What would they say to people who just want to get back to normal?
Both doctors sympathize and agree we would all like to go to how things were. However, we live in a new world, and it is necessary to adapt. It means advocating for yourself and making decisions to protect yourself. We have to take everything that we have learned during this pandemic and take it with us.
Professor Desiree LaBeaud (M.D., M.S., FASTMH), Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, Stanford University.
Dr. Desiree LaBeaud is a physician-scientist, epidemiologist, and professor for the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. She received her MD from the Medical College of Wisconsin, and trained with the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital pediatric residency program and the pediatric infectious disease fellowship program at Case Western Reserve University, while earning her master’s degree in Clinical Research and Epidemiology. Dr. LaBeaud studies the epidemiology and ecology of domestic and international arboviruses and emerging infections, with an interest in the vector, host, and environmental factors that affect transmission dynamics and spectrum of disease. Her current field sites include Kenya, Grenada, and Brazil. She currently heads a clinical research lab focused on better understanding the risk factors and long-term health consequences of arboviral infections and the most effective means of prevention.
Dr. David Vu (M.D., M.S.) Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, Stanford University.
Dr. Vu is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist who is researching human responses to dengue virus and malaria infections. He performed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego, and obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He trained in general pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, and in pediatric infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. His present studies on pediatric dengue and malaria co-infection are supported by an NIAID Career Development Award and a Instructor K Award Support Program Award from the Maternal & Child Health Research Institute and Department of Pediatrics.
Interview has been condensed for clarity. The interview was produced by Silicon Valley Community Media and Ding Ding TV.