Written by By Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP Public Health Education Specialist at the Greenwich Department of Health
As we hear increasingly more about Omicron, it is important to know that the Delta variant, and not the Omicron variant, is still the predominant circulating strain in the US, in Connecticut and in Greenwich (CDC, Governor Lamont’s Office, CT-DPH, Greenwich DPH, and the Greenwich Selectman’s Office (Dec., 2021).
All the vaccines at our disposal are available, free, extremely safe, and highly effective in protecting the fully vaccinated against serious illness from COVID, and therefore against hospitalization, ICU admissions, and death. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/safety-of-vaccines.html
Right behind the critically important public health measure of getting vaccinated are properly wearing masks, washing your hands, and staying socially separated, especially when in enclosed spaces. This is basic common sense, but it appears that common sense is waning. An observation we all make daily is seeing fewer people wearing masks or social distancing when in enclosed places like stores, supermarkets, salons and other public and private social venues. Ask yourself if that makes sense to you when we are in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and living in a “red zone” state, county and town, all that have a high positivity rate? We have already lost 8,909 people to COVID in Connecticut (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/usa/Connecticut)
As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise, and as positivity rates fluctuate but remain above 5%, it is important to remember that the best protection we have against COVID-19 in any of its mutated forms is vaccination (CDC, CT-DPH, Greenwich DPH, WHO, et al). A positivity rate that goes above 5% is concerning; one that stays above 5% is alarming. It tells us that infection-transmission of COVID-19 in our community is high; and that more testing needs to be done to identify the mildly ill as well as those who may be asymptomatic yet still actively communicable to others. If one of those “others” is unvaccinated or vaccinated but with a compromised
immune system, that innocent exposure can be serious or lethal to them. A positivity rating over 5% tells us that
public health controls are warranted to prevent viral spread. This would be masks, social distancing, increased emphasis on vaccinations and testing, and the isolation and quarantining of people with COVID and those who have been exposed to them. When a positivity rating is over 5% that is not the time to drop your guard or reduce your use of personal safety measures.
None of us needs another person’s approval to do the right thing for ourselves, our children, and others (Johns Hopkins, https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2020/covid-19-testing-understanding-the-percent-positive). Thankfully, vaccinated children in Greenwich continue to increase in numbers now that 5-11 year olds are eligible for vaccination. Perhaps as a result of Omicron, more adults are stepping up to get vaccinated and boostered, but our 25 to 44 year olds remain a self-imposed at-risk group due to their low vaccine rates of 66.76% (see insert).
Governor Lamont’s daily Coronavirus Update Report on 12-7-21 noted a positivity rate of 8.33%. We were just short of 2,000 new cases on that day, and 25 more people were hospitalized since the prior day; alarming to be sure, but not cause for panic. Today we are at 6.48%, which is still too high.
We need to be sustained below 5% for two-weeks before we begin to drop our guard (WHO, CT-DPH, https://portal.ct.gov>coronavirus ). For the un- and under-vaccinated, I urge you to re-think getting yourself and your children vaccinated for your own safety and the safety of those around you.
The Governor reports new coronavirus deaths weekly on Thursdays. Today 576 Connecticut patients are hospitalized with COVID-19; The vast majority of them (77.4%) are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated. This
has left them vulnerable to COVID infection, severe illness, long-haul COVID, and other adverse consequences,
including death. As a health professional for 53 years, I can tell you that few things are as personally terrifying as
being unable to breathe. Few things are as horrific as helplessly watching a loved one struggle to breathe. Please do not let this be you or one of your loved ones. An additional 37 of our acquaintances and loved ones have died from COVID just since last Thursday. Ask yourself, who you think these people are? They would include those unprotected by vaccines, and those who got vaccinated but perhaps had underlying health conditions &/or compromised immune systems who got exposed by an infected person. Weigh these facts into the equation as you ponder whether you or your children should get vaccinated. The unvaccinated, compared to those who are fully vaccinated, have a 5 times greater risk of becoming COVID-infected; a 16 times greater risk of dying from COVID, and a 12 times higher risk of being hospitalized (Governor’s COVID Update, 12-9-21, CT; https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Pages/Governors-Press-Releases )
Virtually the entire state of Connecticut, including Greenwich and all of our surrounding communities are once again back in the “Red Zone”, which signifies high community spread. (https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-tracker). Of the 169 towns and 21 cities in Connecticut, only 6 small upstate towns are not in the Red Zone, and one additional town is in an orange zone indicating their potential for community spread. I would urge everyone to view this map daily; it is a sobering reality check that should motivate good, science-informed, personal decision-making. (https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Coronavirus/Community-Risk-Level-Mitigation-Strategies_10182021_final.pdf).
Anyone can check all the facts and science in this or any of my articles for themselves by going to credible evidence and science-based resource sites. Everything you want to know or need to know is at your fingertips at the click of a mouse. I urge caution in sticking to valid scientific sites because both intentional and uninformed misinformation abounds.
Some among us continue to wrongly believe that many deaths have been associated with COVID vaccines, which contributes to unnecessary vaccine hesitancy. Reuter’s Fact-Check (https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-coronavirus-usa-idUSL1N2R00KP) and factcheck.org https://www.factcheck.org/2021/03/scicheck-viral-posts-misuse-vaers-data-to-make-false-claims-about-covid-19-vaccines/ showed this to be untrue. The invalid results came from improperly interpreted data from a review of reported but unsubstantiated vaccine side effects. All scientific studies are not equally valid based on the quality of such things as study design, the size of the sample, and accurate data interpretation, to name but a few).
Numerous links were inserted into this article in the interest of full public health disclosure about the facts and data retrieved. In a deadly pandemic, the choices you make could have dire consequences, especially if they are ill-informed. This will help readers find and use valid scientific sources of facts and information upon which to base their important health, wellness, and life and death decisions. People’s personal beliefs are strongly held and respected, but if they are based on inaccurate studies or faulty science, public health professionals will always attempt to replace misinformation with correct data. Everyone can do their own research on any public health topic, but what you find will only be as valid as the source or sources of your information.
Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno
Public Health Education Specialist
Greenwich Department of Health