What a year we’ve had. This time last year, we were starting to transition out of stay-at-home orders, attempting to find balance between a return to work and life, and trying to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. In a year’s time, Alabamans lost 11,043 friends and loved ones. Many also lost jobs, personal connections, and much more. Now, vaccines are widely available, giving us all an opportunity to regain some normalcy. All over the country, individuals aged 12+ can be vaccinated, which allows us to protect ourselves, but also others.
Case rates in the state are now the lowest we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. We do still have spread in our communities however. Why? Well, the SARS-COV-2 virus continues to spread rapidly in other states and countries. As you know, the virus does not respect state or national borders. It’s also quite tricky. It has changed enough that it has become even more transmissible than it was in its original form and may continue to change to its advantage if we don’t stop it from spreading.
How do we stop it from spreading? We focus on how it works and we do everything we can to stop it. For example, we know that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is airborne. That means it spreads really well in places that are not well-ventilated because the particles that come out of our mouths and noses can ‘hang in the air’. That means, most indoor spaces pose a risk for infection, especially if the people indoors are not vaccinated. We also know that virus in droplets emitted from our mouths and noses may fall onto surfaces, thus creating additional sources of infection.
Therefore, moving forward, the main ways to protect ourselves from infection are: 1) getting vaccinated, 2) wearing our masks indoors or outdoors in crowds, 3) and washing our hands. The vaccines are so effective that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance stating that vaccinated individuals run a very low risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death, so everyone is encouraged to get their vaccine when they can. Remember, fully vaccinated individuals can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals safely. Fully vaccinated means all doses of a vaccine, plus two weeks after the last dose to allow time to build an immune response. Individuals who are immunocompromised and vaccinated may not be able to launch a proper immune response, so it’s crucial we continue to be safe around them. Unvaccinated kids and their families should continue to follow public health recommendations for unvaccinated individuals until the kids have an opportunity to be vaccinated as well.
To bring an end to the spread of this virus and bring this pandemic to a halt, we must stop the virus from spreading. That means that we need to all work together to achieve that.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines and SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, visit CDC.GOV and UAB.EDU.
Bertha Hidalgo, PhD, MPH is a Associate Professor with The University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Epidemiology