With the nation suffering a decided case of COVID fatigue, with the constant barrage of contradictory data and commentary more often than not becoming mere white noise in the background of daily living, could someone please cut through the clutter to explain the present state of the pandemic in layman’s terms?
Arlington’s public-health director, Dr. Reuben Varghese, gave it a try at the Dec. 14 County Board meeting, but anyone hoping for decisive declarations came away unfulfilled.
The public-health chief gave a cup-half-full-cup-half-empty synopsis.
First, the good news, from Varghese’s perspective:
• While cases of COVID in the region are increasing (just as they did last year this time), “fortunately we have not seen an increase in deaths,” he told County Board members.
• Vaccination rates keep rising. “We’re seeing a steady increase. We’ve made progress in all age groups,” Varghese said, including the previously hard-to-convince 20-to-34-year-old cohort.
Bad news, however, was not far from the surface. With people spending more time indoors due to colder temperatures, with more people gathering for the holidays, and with more people taking an increasingly laissez-faire approach to social-distancing and mask-wearing as the pandemic grinds on with little end in sight, “we’re moving in a direction that could put us in trouble,” the public-health director said.
“It could be a perfect storm,” Varghese said of the prospect of having more COVID patients in hospitals at a time when the flu may make its normal winter appearance (after largely being absent last year).
If flu cases are particularly virulent, that could put hospitals at risk of running out of available beds, something predicted since the start of the pandemic but, so far, not having come to pass.
Rising COVID case rates across the region in the early part of December could be due in part to Thanksgiving gatherings, and also could be due to more people using at-home testing kits and self-reporting positive readings to public-health officials.
The omicron variant of COVID has arrived in the local area, but “delta is still the predominant strain” in the area, Varghese said.
“Only time will tell if that will change,” he said.
The omicron variant spreads more easily than the initial COVID virus, although the jury is still out as to how it compares to the delta variant.
And vaccines, while not stopping transmission of the virus, do seem to be holding their own in preventing the public from the most serious medical impacts. In recent days, deaths and serious illness have been concentrated “almost exclusively” among the unvaccinated, Varghese said.