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After three years, what do we really know about COVID-19?

And why are some people still wearing masks?

Consumer Affairs | Mark Huffman | 3/22/2023 Remember March 2020? Cases of COVID-19 began to fill U.S. hospitals and there was more than a little fear of this new virus.

For more than two years, COVID-19 dominated Americans’ lives and brought massive changes to the U.S. economy. But with the quick development of vaccines and therapeutics, cases and deaths rapidly declined.

Months ago President Biden declared the pandemic is over and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reduced its safety guidance. Businesses – and even medical facilities – no longer required masking.

On March 10, Johns Hopkins University, which had maintained a COVID-19 dashboard for three years, tracking cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, announced it would no longer update the site.

What have we learned?

So, after three years what have we learned about COVID-19 and our health care system? Dr. Dung Trinh, chief medical officer at the Healthy Brain Clinic, says the threat has changed over time.

“The virus has mutated into different variants which can be more contagious and potentially cause more severe symptoms than the original strain,” Trinh told ConsumerAffairs. “The good news is that as more people are vaccinated, or have already been infected by COVID-19, herd immunity is increasing and the risk of new infections and severe infections is decreasing.”

According to the CDC, as of March 15, 2023, the current 7-day average of weekly new cases was 21,422, down 19.7% compared with the previous 7-day average. But the threat hasn’t completely disappeared. That’s why some people are still wearing masks in public while others don’t.

Some feel more at risk

“Many different reasons abound why some people are still wearing masks and others are not,” Dr. Soumi Eachempati, co-founder and CEO of CLEARED4, told us. “Many of these reasons stem from people’s perceptions of COVID and their own understanding of their personal vulnerabilities. Some individuals are masking because they feel themselves to be at risk for complications or death from COVID and will mask regularly in public. These individuals may be older or immunosuppressed due to concomitant illnesses such as cancer or lung diseases.”

Many researchers and health care professionals are now focusing on a condition known as “long COVID,” symptoms that linger for weeks, or even months. Jean-Jacques Schoch, general manager at The Heal Long COVID Project, says long COVID is one of the greater threats, even for people with only mild symptoms.

Dr. Nagesh Borse, deputy chief health officer at Project Hope, says there has been a lot of confusion surrounding that condition. At last, however, he says effective treatments have emerged.

“Most recently Metformin showed efficacy in trials, which offers a path to improvement,” Borse told ConsumerAffairs. “The challenge now, as with Paxlovid, is to ensure access to treatment to those who need it in an affordable and timely manner.”

Paxlovid is an oral drug developed by Pfizer that, when taken at the onset of symptoms, has been shown to be highly effective in preventing serious illness. It’s one reason that for many Americans, COVID-19 is a manageable risk.

In its last update to its dashboard, Johns Hopkins reported there had been 103.8 million U.S. cases of COVID-19 over the last three years with 1.1 million deaths attributed to the virus.

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