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COVID-19 and Winter 2021: What We Know

COVID-19 and Winter 2021: What We Know

Asian Man Receiving Coronavirus Vaccine Injection During Appointment In Hospital

If there’s anything predictable about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unpredictability.

After the delta variant changed the equation for summer activities and caused a surprising surge in cases, it’s hard to say exactly how the coronavirus will behave next. However, physicians and researchers are learning more and more about the novel coronavirus as the pandemic continues, and based on what they know now, experts are advising people across the country to prepare for another cautious winter.

“The CDC continuously reviews and updates guidance,” explains Dr. Steve Lawrence, a Washington University in St. Louis infectious disease physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital regarding the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They also provide seasonal considerations, such as how to safely conduct Halloween and holiday travel. But I don’t anticipate a broad national strategic ‘winter plan’ like in the U.K. because of differences in how states approach COVID-19 prevention and risk mitigation.”

In order to prepare for colder temperatures driving people indoors where the virus is known to spread more easily, metro area hospital systems are working to encourage all eligible individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza, he notes.

“Last year was a record-low flu season, but this year we’re concerned that with less social distancing, we could see flu and COVID affecting people at the same time,” Lawrence says. “Fortunately, the same strategies can be used to reduce the risk of both: vaccination and masking when indoors with people who don’t live with us.”

The World Health Organization continues to monitor the lambda and mu coronavirus variants as “variants of interest,” while as of mid-October, the CDC lists 10 variants being monitored in the U.S. specifically. Lawrence notes that new variants continuously arise, but most do not have the three properties that make them more dangerous: increased infectiousness, increased severity or ability to evade vaccine protections.

“However, the longer COVID-19 continues to circulate around the globe at high levels, the greater the chance that dangerous new variants will threaten the progress that has been made,” he adds.

Lawrence emphasizes that the key to reducing that threat is vaccination. “Boosters are important for those who are at the highest risk of severe disease from COVID-19, particularly people over 65 and with high-risk medical conditions,” he says. “For younger individuals not at high risk for COVID-19 complications, boosters will slightly lower their chances of mild illness, but they still have very high levels of protection against severe disease even without a booster.”

Lawrence’s advice to get vaccinated and use masks when indoors around people you don’t live with supports his bottom line for this winter: “The best way to prevent spreading COVID-19 is to not get it in the first place.”

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