One of the most frustrating aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has been often-conflicting information. Through 13 months of business shutdowns and health concerns, making sense of a non-stop news cycle and sifting fact from fiction have been a challenge.
Such was the case Tuesday.
On one hand, the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines saying that it is safe for people who have been vaccinated to gather outdoors without masks, provided they are not in a large crowd. On the other hand, reports highlighted a spike in infections in Washington, Oregon officials reinstated restrictions for that state’s largest counties, and evidence showed that younger adults are showing new susceptibility to the disease.
What is one to believe? Well, all of it. Which only makes the situation more difficult. As the pandemic continues to linger, caution but not fear is the best course.
More than half of U.S. adults have received one dose of vaccine, and about one-third have been fully inoculated. That led CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to say: “Today, I hope, is a day when we can take another step back to the normalcy of before. Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what you can’t do. Today, I am going to tell you some of the things you can do, if you are fully vaccinated.”
After urging the wearing of masks outdoors when within 6 feet of others, CDC officials have eased that guideline. They add that unvaccinated people also can go outside without masks in some situations.
It is, indeed, a step toward normalcy, but the virus continues to show that it is not finished with us. Locally, Washington officials have warned about a fourth wave of infections, noting that variants of the disease are affecting younger adults than in previous waves.
“We are seeing younger patients than what we saw in earlier surges: Patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s are being hospitalized,” Tom DeBord of Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue said this week during a news briefing hosted by the Washington State Hospital Association. Another Seattle-area official said: “Forty percent of our cases were under the age of 40, which is mind-boggling to me. We never saw that earlier in the pandemic.”
Similar surges are being seen in Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown has re-imposed some restrictions, including in Multnomah County.
In Clark County, health officials report 198.1 new cases per 100,000 population over the past two weeks. In mid-March, the rate was 88.8 cases per 100,000.
The prevalence of vaccines should not be viewed as an invitation to ignore the threat of the virus. All residents should still employ caution, wearing a mask when appropriate and being cognizant of social distancing. And all residents 16 and older should seek to be vaccinated if medically able. About one-quarter of Clark County residents have been fully vaccinated.
The goal remains the same as it was when restrictions were first imposed more than a year ago: to prevent the health care system from being overrun. Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have hovered around 350 in recent weeks, but now that number has soared to 600.
Keeping hospitalizations in check can be difficult given the mixed signals that come with non-stop news reports about the virus. But, as President Biden said, “The bottom line is clear: If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors.”
That part of the message seems pretty straightforward.