Relaxed guidelines released this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention essentially granted license to individuals to determine how to protect themselves and others from spreading COVID-19. But physicians and hospitals should continue to put safety first, health officials said.
“This year doesn’t have to be like last year if we use what we have learned about stopping the spread and severity of illness – i.e., getting vaccinated and boosted in a timely manner,” said Sam Antonios, MD, chief clinical officer for Ascension Via Christi. Both Ascension and Wesley Healthcare hospitals require masking and have other safety protocols in place.
“As physicians, we should be encouraging our patients to get vaccinated and boosted and to mask up as needed, and encourage our children to do the same,” Antonios said.
As COVID-19 joins the ranks of other respiratory viruses seen every year, many people are eschewing masks and are mingling in restaurants, grocery stores and other public areas unprotected. Health officials acknowledge that most of the population has some degree of immunity, either from vaccination or infection. Local hospitals continue to see a fairly slow but consistent pace of positive COVID-19 cases. Many of those, hospital officials have said, are secondary cases – tested after the patient was admitted for something else.
“The country is in an endemic phase now and none of this comes as a surprise,” said Lowell Ebersole, DO, chief medical officer for Wesley Healthcare.
The importance of vaccination and safety during flu season should not be underestimated, said Garold Minns, MD, Sedgwick County’s public health officer. Vulnerable populations of people – those with immune deficiencies, cancer and the like – need to be extra careful.
“We were probably too lackadaisical about flu season,” Minns said. “This flu season, we should all consider wearing masks when the season is at peak. There’s no mandate, but it’s a common-sense thing to consider; it’s respectful of your neighbors.”