Experts urge covid caution ahead of Memorial Day

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Memorial Day weekend travel combined with lax coronavirus protections will likely trigger an increase in already rising case levels, health officials have warned, repeating a pattern that has occurred after the holidays since the start of the pandemic.

As the course of the pandemic has changed, experts said, tracking the shape of the virus has become more difficult, and the grave consequences persist, although treatments such as Paxlovid have helped vulnerable people avoid serious illness.

“It’s the hardest thing to reconcile,” said Gabe Kelen, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “I understand that people are willing to take a personal risk, but it’s not a personal risk. There are a lot of people who are older, who are immunocompromised and who cannot fully participate in society” because d others “are unwilling to do the right thing”.

“The country has gone so far as to say ‘I only care about myself’,” he added.

With AAA predicting more than 39 million people will travel over Memorial Day weekend, local officials have chosen not to reinstate masks the mandates and instead urges people to exercise caution in hopes of curbing rising infection and hospitalization rates.

“As we approach Memorial Day weekend, many people will be traveling, so this is an important time to take precautions to protect yourself, your friends and your family from COVID-19 as much as possible,” said said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. in a statement Thursday. He encouraged travelers to wear masks on public transit and indoors and when distancing isn’t possible, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Last month, a federal judge overturned a federal mask mandate on commercial flights, buses, ferries and subways, prompting several airlines to make face coverings optional on domestic flights. By this time, most local mandates had been lifted.

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The city of Baltimore had recorded high levels of community spread Thursday night, according to federal data. Arlington County officials reminded residents to social distance and wear masks as the positivity rate hit its highest level since January.

In the district, the average daily workload was around 48 this week, nearly double the total three weeks ago. Cases are also increasing in Virginia. A steady increase in the region followed a lag after the record numbers associated with the omicron variant.

Kelen noted that many people simply don’t wear a mask indoors now that it’s no longer necessary and it seems that vaccinations and past infection protect the most against serious illnesses. “A lot of people psychologically said, ‘I can’t live the same way. If I get covid, hopefully I’ll be fine and that’s all there is to it,” he said. “A lot of people have decided to do the same calculation.”

Kelen said he understands that prospect, but also sees the consequences of less regulation, as the death toll in the United States from coronavirus cases topped one million this month. “Covid is on a pretty significant uptick,” he said. “What’s a little murky is that hospitalizations are also increasing.” He added: “We are seeing a lot more people both in the emergency department and admitted. And not a net.

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The Hopkins emergency department at Baltimore’s flagship hospital has seen coronavirus patients decline to about one at a time but have returned to six to eight at a time, not near the peak of 30 but still high, Kelen said.

Hospitalizations, a lagging indicator after rising infections, have been on the rise across the region for weeks, according to federal data. Baltimore has recorded more than 280 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, and hospitalizations have risen to nearly 12 admissions per 100,000 cases, according to the city’s health department.

More than two weeks ago, Baltimore Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa urged residents to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status, as the city transitioned from low spread to medium, and doubled the message as the city moved into the high category. Howard and Anne Arundel counties have also recorded high levels of spread, according to the CDC.

“The most important thing to remember is that we have the tools to fight this,” Dzirasa said in a statement Friday. “Vaccines, tests and masks combined with a strong hygiene routine are enough to keep many healthy people out of the hospital as we work to determine if we are at the end, the middle or the kick-off point. of this outbreak.”

Part of the challenge of responding to coronavirus at this point in the pandemic is understanding the risk when public health agencies have shifted to less frequent data reporting and people are relying more and more on home testing kits. to know their status but do not report positive cases.

Public health officials use sewage monitoring to assess coronavirus levels in a community days before people develop symptoms. In Maryland, the Department of the Environment monitors more than two dozen wastewater treatment sites for traces of viruses and shares the data online.

Virginia officials plan to launch a website by August and have requested additional federal funding to expand 25 sites to 40, said Rekha Singh, wastewater monitoring program manager for the state.

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In the meantime, data is available from the CDC and shows large concentrations of the virus in the populous population of Northern Virginia, mirroring test data. “It can fill the void and is a really promising public health tool,” Singh said, adding that plans are underway to add more sites in southwestern Virginia.

Inova Health System recommends Paxlovid, an oral medication approved for people 12 and older, as therapy for outpatients at high risk of developing severe cases of covid, said John Paul Verderese, an Inova physician who said that the latest flare-up is the first time the treatment has been widely available.

Patients can start taking it within five days of the onset of symptoms, after ruling out adverse drug interactions, and it is widely available free of charge from area pharmacies. The drug is easier to administer and may be more effective than intravenous monoclonal antibody treatments, even with reports that some have had a resurgence of symptoms, Verderese said.

“It’s good that we have this available to us and hopefully there will be more therapies available to us over time,” Verderese said. Although Inova was well below its peak covid patient count of more than 425, he said, there were 64 patients in the system on Thursday, up from about a third a month ago.

“I’ve seen people become less vigilant,” Verderese said. “We are humans, it’s human nature. There is a lot of fatigue that sets in but at the same time you have to live your life. People need to make their own decisions and better protect themselves, especially if they are high risk.

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