A year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic began and nine months after vaccinations began to roll out, COVID-19 numbers are surging again. Why?
We sat down with Dr. Rick Miller, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at JPS Health Network to get the latest update about where we stand with COVID-19 and what we need to do to get past the pandemic.
Miller said there is no reason for confusion. A year and a half into the fight against COVID-19, people ought to know what they need to do: wear a mask in public, and get a vaccination. The doctors, nurses, therapists and other hospital workers who work long hours and risk their lives to take care of others are weary of this fight, he said, and people need to act responsibly. There’s no excuse to do otherwise, Miller said, adding the refusal by a part of the population to do the basics is dragging everyone else down and people are dying because of it.
Q: Why does it seem that people are less concerned about the latest COVID-19 surge even though the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are nearing the worst of the pandemic last year? Are we desensitized to what’s happening around us?
Miller: One big reason for what’s happening is that vaccine disinformation is really plaguing social media right now. So a lot of people are confused about what’s going on. I think it’s giving some people a false sense of security. They’re letting down their guard when they should be especially vigilant.
Q: Why should I be concerned about COVID-19 when there are no mask mandates or stay at home orders during the latest surge?
Miller: Government agencies, as COVID-19 has lingered on into its second year, have increasingly shifted responsibilities toward individuals when it comes to deciding how to best protect themselves from the virus that has so far killed more than 616,400 Americans. People shouldn’t take the fact that the government isn’t ordering you to stay home, wear a mask or social distance to mean that we shouldn’t be doing those things anymore. People should also prioritize getting vaccinated.
Q: So far in August, more than 125 people have died from COVID in Tarrant County. On Aug. 30, there were 125 people fighting the disease as inpatients at JPS, 24 of them in intensive care. So, what should our response be?
Miller: My suggestion is that in public areas, wear a mask. About 97 percent of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. While some people are still becoming infected after being vaccinated, the only ones we’ve seen become critically ill are people with pre-existing health conditions that prevent their body from mounting an immune response.
Q: Some people believe getting the vaccination is dangerous. JPS has given more than 100,000 COVID shots. Have any of the recipients become seriously ill or died because of it?
Miller: Vaccines save lives, reduce the spread of the virus, and prevent people from getting severely ill. It is much, much safer to get vaccinated than not. I have not personally heard of anyone who died because of the vaccine. But I have seen many people die of COVID, and they’re getting younger every day.
This virus is 12.5 times more contagious than chicken pox, and the Delta Variant is 1,000 times more contagious than original COVID-19. It’s a very serious disease and should be taken seriously. There are no arguments going on in Canada, Europe, Asia… only here. Other places are begging for the vaccination and they can’t get it.
Q: Why are the numbers still going up if so many people have been vaccinated? Can people who are vaccinated still spread COVID-19?
Miller: The answer is yes. My chance of spreading it to someone else is significantly lower if I am vaccinated. But can I spread it? Yes. That’s one of the reasons we need to wear a mask when we go out, even if we’ve had the vaccination. When you’re in public, you have no idea who is vaccinated and who is not. I am seriously worried about kids in school. They can not only get it, they can spread it, too.
Q: Is there anyone who should not be vaccinated?
Miller: I don’t know of anyone, even pregnant women have now been cleared to receive the vaccination, according to the CDC. Young children have not yet been cleared for the vaccination. But it is hoped that they will be soon.
Q: All of this being said, do I need to stay home again if I have had the vaccination?
Miller: If you’re vaccinated, you shouldn’t stay home. In public areas, you should wear a mask. The majority of people have the antibodies to fight COVID-19 off after vaccination. So, wear your mask in tight places, eat outdoors whenever possible if you go to a restaurant, and avoid crowds. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you should get vaccinated. It’s just that simple.