In the United States, infections with COVID-19 are down over 90% from their January 2022 peaks. National organizations like the CDC as well as local and state governments have pared back on vaccine and mask mandates. Local establishments like restaurants and gyms are also providing new freedoms to clients by shedding mask and vaccine rules.
While COVID-19 numbers are coming down in the US, the pandemic is by no means over. On the contrary, as society starts reopening with more alacrity, now is the time to continue certain precautions to maintain health and safety. That is why we need to continue to protect our teams, our families and communities from this virus as we march toward a normalization of society. To reopen carelessly would leave everyone open to more risk when the next variant or virus appears somewhere in our world. Since no one wants things to go backward, now is the time to keep vigilant, and here are some reasons why:
COVID-19 is still a major health care problem
Although COVID-19 cases are down from their peak, there are still tens of thousands of new cases being diagnosed every day and thousands of people dying every week. Hospital utilization for COVID-19 is still higher than all but the worst periods of flu epidemics in previous years. The contagiousness of variants will still create breakthrough infections to vaccinated individuals and potentially jeopardize the health and well-being of any community. High-risk individuals such as those who are immunocompromised, asthmatic, or overweight will remain highly vulnerable to death and morbidity as long as any coronavirus is prevalent in the population. High-risk and unvaccinated cases will continue to overutilize hospital beds and health care resources while causing major suffering and cost to society for the foreseeable future.
Vaccinations rates are inadequate
Current vaccination rates in the US have plateaued at about 65% and less than on-third of the population has received a booster dose. This relatively low rate compared to other developed countries and left huge gaps in protection from COVID-19 infection. Additionally, the disproportionate geography of the vaccinations has left some areas particularly at risk for more breakouts. The low booster rates in most of the US have left those vaccinated over 5-6 months ago susceptible to Omicron and future variants regarding serious illness and hospitalization. With low daily vaccination and boosters rates at the current time, it it unlikely that the US population will greatly augment these numbers.
The virus is designed to last
The current coronavirus pandemic is the third major outbreak of this virus family in the last 20 years. All predictions indicate that more infections from this type of virus will occur in the future. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the virus, this current pandemic may proliferate for years as mutations will keep a continued stream of variants in the news. Just as Omicron originated in South Africa, major gaps in vaccinations and boosters in other parts of the world will contribute even more to future variants. The unique nature of this virus also allows it to produce infections in animal hosts where it then can migrate, proliferate, and mutate before it comes back to humans in a more lethal and contagious form. We have already seen this viral affect multiple animal species including bat, raccoon dog, and mink populations where major damage has been done to those animals. Past viral infections like smallpox and polio were able to be conquered largely because they did not have latent animal reservoirs. Coronaviruses have proven themselves to be very prolific in this feature and will therefore be much harder to eradicate.
Fatigue contributes to persistence
After two plus years of hearing about COVID-19, people are done with exhibiting precautionary behavior regarding this disease. Unfortunately, that is the best way for the pandemic to perpetuate. People are less likely to use precautions such as masking or distancing even for those in high-risk situations like crowds or in hospitals. Surveillance testing has decreased in many areas so more asymptomatic infections will create exposure to more people. With less testing, new innovations such as the Pfizer or Merck pills will be unable to be given in time while the drugs could still be effective. Finally, less testing will lead to more super spreader events in public gatherings where massive transmission numbers can occur and create even more events like the Provincetown, MA events of last summer.
COVID-19 is a global problem
COVID-19 is still a pandemic in many places around the world. Hong Kong which was protected from high infection numbers throughout much of the pandemic is now having record numbers of cases. New Zealand is also having huge caseloads. As some areas decrease their case numbers, other areas will see increased. The rebirth of global travel will exacerbate these numbers and industries like cruise lines will lead to even more cases and more dissemination of variants.
What should organizations do for current and future protection from communicable illnesses like COVID-19?
As COVID-19 continues to flourish in different parts of society and the globe, organizations need to protect themselves from risks to their community in the following four main ways:
Organizations will need to use judicious surveillance and methodical testing for diseases like COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, commensurate with the level of infection in the respective locale.
Organizations must monitor, educate, and encourage vaccinations for COVID-19 and influenza while recognizing the need for further booster and seasonal shots. Individuals at high risk, or those who are traveling to endemic areas, will need even more scrutiny after this travel.
Event managers need to take extra precautions with testing and contact tracing to prevent their events from potentially developing into catastrophic super spreader events which could to serious organizational damage with brand destruction, impaired business productivity, or even potentially terrible personal injury.
Finally, organizations need to continue to make smart, responsible decisions regarding COVID-19 safety as society reopens. There is now a lot of data about the past two years and multiple false alarms have incorrectly predicted the demise of this pandemic. An appropriate understanding of these events and a healthy respect for the possible nature of the virus will lead to a successful reopening of society and a full march toward the new normal.