Column by Richard Sternberg
It would be a safe thing to say that I was one of the strongest advocates in Central New York for masking up, having vaccinations up to date—it should be two original, at least the most recent vaccine for the Omicron variants and having been boostered for last year—avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and generally keeping your distance from other people whenever possible. When I now go to the Clark Sports Center, very few people are wearing their masks. I personally felt comfortable with this policy as relates to COVID and there have been a few times when I forgot to bring a mask with me. I try to wear a mask around my neck, pulling it up over my nose and mouth when somebody is near physically, but frequently I forget to do so. That changes now, regrettably and disappointingly.
COVID is still with us, but in Otsego County, the number of new infections and hospitalizations appears manageable. For the week ended November 29, which is the last date posted on the Otsego County Department of Health’s website as I write this column, there were 36 new cases, and only four hospitalizations—30.7 percent of the county population not yet had any vaccinations and 64.2 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated with at least one booster.
The transmission rate is 47/100,000 population. These numbers are concerning but not alarming. By themselves, I might say we go back to the way we’ve always been at this time of year, with people taking themselves out of circulation when they’re sick and wearing masks around vulnerable people, such as in hospitals.
The problem is, there is a veritable stew of respiratory viruses and diseases out there.
In a statement attributed to “The Washington Post” on Monday, the U.S. is experiencing the highest levels of hospitalizations from influenza in a decade. It goes on to say that nearly every state is battling high levels of multiple respiratory viruses, which threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system. These are COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, plus those less serious, like the common cold.
“The U.S. is experiencing the highest levels of hospitalizations from influenza in a decade. It goes on to say that nearly every state is battling high levels of multiple respiratory viruses, which threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system.”The Washington Post
“It’s a perfect storm or terrible holiday season,” the statement reads.
According to Reuters, “there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths in the U.S. from flu so far this season.” The flu season has just begun and has another four to five months to run.
Nationwide, pediatric hospitals and nursing units have been overwhelmed by children with RSV. Many hospitals are placing patients in conference rooms, lounges, hallways, and reopening spaces that they initially created when COVID hit hard two and a half years ago.
So, I am going back to wearing my mask when out in public, especially where I can’t control the distance between me and other people. I will use it in the gym unless it is particularly empty and no one is working around me. I will use it when working with my trainer. I will also use it as much as possible when I go out to social events, even where food is present.
Those of us fully vaccinated and boosted appropriately for COVID and this year’s flu might feel the risk is slight to us in terms of getting seriously ill, and we will be right, though the risk is not zero—but as we found out about these diseases, we can still catch them and be contagious without being significantly symptomatic.
So, for the time being, I will also be using my mask more frequently than I have been recently, even though I find it an annoyance, especially while exercising globally.
There are countries, mostly in East Asia, where people routinely wear masks when they go out. Wearing a mask in and of itself is not the end of the world. So, wear masks around other people and make sure all your vaccinations are up to date.
Dr. Richard Sternberg is a retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon.