The fifth wave of the pandemic has caused an increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., prompting discussions about whether facemask mandates should return and the importance of the population receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
More than two-thirds of the U.S. population has tested positive for COVID-19 and 78 percent is part of the BA5 subvariant of Omicron, which is more contagious and has more severe symptoms. However, health measures to avoid contracting the disease have been reduced over time.
The use of masks, antibacterial gels, among other things, have been left behind, as people have had to return to normality, but while precautionary measures are losing importance, the virus is advancing.
"The virus isn't fast, but it moves," Ben Neuman, professor of biology and chief of virology at Global Health, pointed out at a panel hosted by Ethnic Media Services in which experts met to discuss the risks posed by new variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection.
Neuman stressed the importance of the population getting inoculated against COVID-19 as well as its boosters, because even though they do not rule out the possibility of getting infected, they reduce complications, hospitalizations and deaths. "We have to use the tools we have as much as we can," he said.
Positive cases are more than reported
Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine specializing in the treatment of infectious diseases, commented that the number of people who have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus disease is higher than officially reported, as there are those who test at home or those who simply let the disease pass. "If 1,300 cases a day are reported, there are probably actually a million." he said.
"The true number of infections is much higher than we count," said William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
He also noted that in his experience, COVID-19 rapid tests are less apt to report a positive result in the case of having the BA5 subvariant of Omicron.
In addition, he stressed that in this summer season respiratory infections have increased, however this does not mean that all people who present symptoms have the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so it is best to perform a PCR test instead of a rapid test at home.
Discussions continue over the use of masks
States such as California have considered returning to mandated facemask use, however they have backed away from this decision because COVID-19 cases have been declining. "That's for local authorities to decide," Schaffner said, however he recommended that they be used at least by those at risk for complications, older adults and people with underlying illnesses.
"Not having a mandate to wear a mask in public spaces doesn't mean it's not a good idea to wear one, so it's still a very strong recommendation, even if you're fully vaccinated and have your boosters, because who wants to be home for 5 days?" said Chin-Hong, while noting that not only do they allow those who wear them to protect themselves, but they also protect all strata of society.
Neuman commented that "from a technical point of view, masks work, they are always a very good idea and we should have mandates for masks and vaccines".
Is Paxlovid a viable treatment?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that Paxlovid continues to be recommended as a treatment in the early phase of mild or moderate COVID-19 disease in patients at high risk for severe disease, preventing hospitalization and death. However, people with kidney or liver problems are not eligible to receive the drug.
"It prevents the development of more serious disease," said Schaffner, who along with his wife received the treatment upon eligibility, because although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for emergency use, there are a number of requirements patients must meet to obtain Paxlovid.
The requirements for using Paxlovid as a treatment are:
- Have tested positive for COVID-19 infection.
- Have mild or moderate disease
- Having one or more risk factors for progression to severe disease
- No hospitalization required at the time of initiating treatment
- No evidence of renal or hepatic impairment.
For more information on vaccines visit https://covid19.ca.gov/es/vaccines/.
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