The State of the Pandemic, 2 Years Later
March 11, 2022, marked two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In that time, COVID has had a devastating impact on society, both on a global and local scale. That said, the world has come a long way in two years. Advances in science have given way to vaccines, boosters, and treatments that have helped curb the stress COVID puts on communities and health care facilities like Enloe Medical Center.
Since the initial spike of the Omicron variant in early 2022, Enloe has seen a steady decrease in the number of COVID patients receiving care at the hospital. Still, COVID-19 is prevalent in Butte County. As we move into the third year of the pandemic, we sit down with Marcia Nelson, M.D., Enloe’s Chief Medical Officer, for a conversation about the current state of COVID.
Q: California’s mandate for health care workers to get boosted was March 1. Are Enloe caregivers getting boosted?
A: The short answer is yes. Caregivers are getting their boosters. It’s a slower process than with the original series. At the same time, our guidance with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is also changing, so it’s a very dynamic situation that we’re seeing. But we’re better protected against COVID when we have that booster on top of the original series.
“As of March 1, masks are no longer required in most indoor public spaces, but they should be considered if your county still has high COVID transmission rates.”
Q: California recently lifted its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals. Should we still be wearing masks indoors?
A: As of March 1, masks are no longer required in most indoor public spaces, but they should be considered if your county still has high COVID transmission rates. The CDC posts this information on its website. Masks are still required in health care facilities, on public transit, in emergency shelters and in long-term care settings.
Q: With the booster now widely available, there’s some confusion about when a person is considered fully vaccinated. As things stand now, how do you achieve full vaccination status?
A: Outside of health care, fully vaccinated means that you have your primary series of either two Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In health care, we’re required to have a booster.
Q: On the topic of boosters, we’ve heard from some community members that either they don’t need the booster because they’ve already had COVID or that they cannot get the booster because they’ve already had COVID. Can you clear this up?
A: Guidance from the CDPH just came out about the timing of boosters. If someone has had their primary series of vaccinations and then comes down with COVID, it’s now recommended to wait 90 days to get the booster.
We know that our protection decreases over time, whether it’s after a natural infection or a vaccine. So even people who’ve had a natural infection should get that booster. We’ve seen people who were infected with COVID during the fall with the Delta variant coming down with Omicron in the winter. I wish that one infection conferred lifelong immunity. But it does not.
“We know that our protection decreases over time, whether it’s after a natural infection or a vaccine. So even people who’ve had a natural infection should get that booster.”
Q: This third surge received its most recent spike thanks to the Omicron variant. Things are starting to trend down now, but how did Enloe handle this Omicron spike? Are there new approaches being developed or lessons being learned for future surges and spikes?
A: One of the most important things that we have done, from the earliest point in the pandemic, is that we created a surge plan. We created a plan with multiple different options, with levels of response that would change to match different stresses, in terms of patients, availability of resources and availability of staff. We continuously update that and continuously refer to that.
One of the lessons we’ve learned from Omicron is that with people who come into the hospital who are incidentally found to have COVID but don’t have symptoms, the best place for them to be cared for is the unit to which they were admitted. We do have people who are admitted because they are ill with COVID grouped together. But for other people who aren’t showing sickness because of COVID, we treat them like any patient in isolation. And we’re really good at taking care of patients when they need special isolation precautions.
Q: Information and guidance has changed several times throughout the pandemic. How can people stay up to date with the most current COVID info?
A: I’d recommend that people get their information from trusted sources, from people and organizations that have historically proven they have our best interests at heart. Public health comes to mind. But just because information changes, that doesn’t mean there’s anything malicious or intentionally misleading.
It’s so hard for me to see people, including some of my own patients, who have trusted me in all matter of medical decision making, but they won’t trust me on this. And I just don’t understand that. There’s no motivation for me, or for any of us, to mislead people, especially when the stakes are life and death.
We all crave instant truth, and we have this false expectation that there should be an answer every time we have a question. That’s not how science works, and that’s not how nature works.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves, the people that we love and the community.”
Q: What can the public continue to do to keep themselves safe as we move toward the third year of this pandemic?
A: The best thing we can do to keep ourselves safe is to get all the vaccines that are coming out that are recommended for COVID. That really will help decrease the spread, which will decrease the number of mutations, which will decrease the ravages of this pandemic. Getting vaccinated is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves, the people that we love and the community.
Q: Is there an end to this pandemic in sight?
A: It depends how you define end. Is COVID going to go away? I think the answer is no. Will we learn how to live with it? I think the answer is yes.
We’ve had such an amazing application of science during this pandemic. We have made it commonplace to sequence viral genomes, so we can know how the virus in September differs from the virus in January. We’re able to create specific treatments based on that science. That’s an exciting thing when you step back and think about it. I don’t think that will eradicate COVID. But I think it will help us learn to live with it.
Who knew in our lifetime that we would be living through something this historic? But we don’t have a choice in that. We just get to choose how we respond.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I think one of the hardest things about COVID is that I’ve seen and continue to see COVID drive people apart and cause wedges and distrust. I really hope people will see that we’re part of the same community. We rise and fall together. Treating COVID with the respect and seriousness it deserves will help us all rise together.