The news of the day is that former Secretary of State Colin Powell has died - fully vaccinated - from complications of COVID-19. And unfortunately, because we live in an era dominated by hot takes, many people have used this fact to spread misinformation. To argue that vaccines don’t work, or that mandates are useless.
I would like to send you MY take - a lukewarm take, since I thought about this a bit before writing it. My take has nothing to do with the general’s political legacy - if you want THAT kind of take, you need to read another kind of blog. My take is about what we can learn from his death, and how it can help us to save other people. If you are reading this far, you might already agree with me, but maybe use these points to convince others to join us in the fight.
Many people’s decisions about whether or not to comply with recommended public health measures are based on their own personal comfort levels. Whether or not they feel safe eating in a restaurant or attending an indoor event. General Powell’s case is a good illustration of why we should think about other things when making those decisions. It’s an illustration of what the “public” in “public health” really means. It means other people.
Let’s talk about masks. I wrote this with kids in mind - especially for those under age 12 who haven't been eligible for the COVID vaccines yet - but the links below have information that anyone can use. Even if you are vaccinated, right now you need to mask up when indoors in public, so the following advice applies to everyone.
School is starting soon, which means that if you have an unvaccinated child, they will be spending several hours a day indoors, with other unvaccinated classmates. While you can’t make the FDA move faster on vaccines, you can protect your family from COVID-19, right now, with a simple face mask. Masks really work, this is well established. Click here if you want to understand how, or click here if you want to read about the many studies that show their effectiveness in the real world.
However, not only is it hard to find a mask that fits a child well (as you can see from this photo), the best mask is useless if your kid won't wear it. So it's crucial to find one that's effective, and that they will use all day long. OK, let's pick a mask!
This is very disappointing. We really had a chance to stick the landing here, but we didn’t. Getting a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated would have gone a long way towards shutting down this pandemic, but now cases are rising, community transmission is rising, and the CDC today revised their recommendations for vaccinated people. Here are some questions that I have been getting, and my best attempt at answering them.Read more
I haven’t written in a while, mostly because COVID news has been slower lately and to some degree trending in a good direction. We have now vaccinated 173 million Americans, with 144 million (44% of the population) being “fully vaccinated” - 2 weeks after their last shot and protected. That’s an amazing achievement and a huge win in the fight against this virus. The vaccines are turning out to be incredibly safe and effective in real world data, not just in trials. New York City is at 0.4% positivity, and has been below 1% for a month. Mask mandates are dropping, in-person events are resuming and people are feeling hopeful for the first time in quite a while.
However - and this is VERY important - COVID isn’t “over”. It certainly isn't over in many countries around the world, but even in the US, there are large areas where vaccination rates are low, and this is a big potential problem. Whether because of general vaccine hesitancy, poor communication by health care providers, conspiracy theorists or political actors linking the shots to partisan identification, unvaccinated people are EXACTLY what the SARS-CoV-2 virus needs to survive and thrive.Read more
One of the hardest parts of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been communication. Trying to give people valid, current and useful information as our understanding of this new virus grows and changes every day. Striking a balance between an abundance of caution and a lack of responsibility. Recognizing that the people on this planet are not lab animals – where we just have to find the right medical treatment to fix the problem – but billions of individuals, each with their own fears, personalities and agendas. Any policy solution has to take into account psychology and sociology as much as it does epidemiology and virology.
So early on, there was a lot of criticism about recommendations that went beyond the science, in an attempt to achieve other policy goals and influence individual behavior. More recently, the reverse happened – the CDC’s new guidelines for indoor mask usage are being criticized because they ONLY consider the science and not the larger public policy implications. Here’s my take on this.