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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: COVID: Use common sense, common courtesy

The Columbian
Published: March 20, 2024, 6:03am

Updated COVID guidelines merely confirm what we knew long ago — Americans are in the acceptance phase of living with the virus. Regardless of recommendations from experts, dealing with a virus that is here to stay requires common sense and common courtesy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month eased guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID. After previously recommending five days of isolation after testing positive, the CDC now urges people to stay home until their fever has disappeared for at least 24 hours. Officials also have broadened those recommendations to apply universally for COVID, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

“COVID-19 remains an important public health threat,” officials said, “but it is no longer the emergency that it once was, and its health impacts increasingly resemble those of other respiratory viral illnesses.”

The Washington State Department of Health this week issued new guidelines echoing the CDC changes. Like the federal agency, it stressed that those most at risk for developing severe complications should take extra precautions.

As Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer, said: “While life is returning to normal in many ways, we must remember that for many in our community with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems, respiratory virus infections such as COVID-19, flu and RSV remain a deadly threat.”

Indeed, none of this means that COVID has disappeared. As a health department spokeswoman said: “It’s important to remember that though COVID-19 activity is decreasing, more than a dozen people in Washington lose their lives to COVID-19 each week.”

But it does mean that health officials have recognized the reality that most Americans long ago returned to their daily lives.

Four years ago, the prospect of such a development seemed far-fetched. A previously unknown virus landed in the United States after originating in China, and severe symptoms and fatalities occurred at high rates. Businesses and schools in many states — including Washington — were closed in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease.

President Donald Trump, after calling COVID a “hoax” and insisting it would “just disappear,” publicly speculated about injecting disinfectants to kill the virus. (Public service announcement: That is not a good idea).

Trump’s administration also oversaw the rapid development of vaccines, which have proven to be safe and largely effective. Through all this, COVID and vaccines became fodder for heated debates that both reflected and exacerbated political divides.

Meanwhile, throughout the pandemic, Washington has ranked among the states with the lowest rates of COVID infections and deaths. While The Columbian’s Editorial Board has criticized Gov. Jay Inslee for not involving legislators in setting COVID policy once the initial emergency had passed, his decisions saved the lives of Washingtonians.

Amid that, updated guidelines provide suggestions for how we can live with the virus. That is where common sense and common courtesy come into play.

Health officials stress that even if symptoms appear to have improved, people recovering from infection can remain contagious; hand-washing and physical distancing are warranted, and the CDC recommends the wearing of masks for a time after exposure.

Although our reaction to COVID has evolved over the past four years, we still are all in this together.