SOAR Asks ‘When Will the Pandemic End?’
Wed, 01/20/2021 - 10:16am admin
Amanda Mendez, publisher
At their January meeting, the Southern Alliance for Rural Development (SOAR), tasked Dr. Robert Shaw, Head of the Howell County Health Department, with answering the question on everyone’s mind, “When will the pandemic end?”
Despite the formidable nature of the question, Dr. Shaw gave a presentation on the state of the virus in Howell County and the benchmarks for overcoming a pandemic.
Dr. Shaw reported on January 15 that hospitalizations for COVID-19 have leveled out across the country, and that hospitalizations in the state of Missouri have been level since about November 18. In Howell County, there have been 89 deaths, 77% of whom have been nursing home residents. Nationally, this population represents only 27% of the more than 300,000 American deaths attributed to COVID-19. Dr. Shaw said most nursing homes are testing residents weekly, or biweekly if there is an outbreak in a particular facility. 50% of positives from nursing home residents have been asymptomatic.
“[The pandemic] will end when we have herd immunity and not before,” said Dr. Shaw, “This is how the Spanish flu pandemic ended. It’s a biological fact.”
Herd immunity will occur in two ways, he said: via vaccinations and via natural infections. There are two versions of a COVID-19 vaccine available in the United States, which are considered to be about 95% effective. The vaccine is thought to provide immunity that will last as long as the immunity provided by natural infection, and vice versa, but no one knows for sure how long that immunity will last.
In Missouri, the vaccine rollout is currently moving from Tier I, a phase reserved for mainly healthcare workers, into the first parts of Tier II in which residents will be eligible for the vaccine based on their risk level and occupation.
Again adding the caveat that no one can be entirely sure, Dr. Shaw reported that the best guess for achieving herd immunity to COVID-19 will be when 60% of the population has been naturally infected or vaccinated.
No one will announce the “end” of the pandemic, Dr. Shaw said. COVID-19 will likely become a part of life for the foreseeable future even after infection rates no longer qualify as a pandemic.
“The important thing is to get the shots to as many people as possible, particularly to the vulnerable ones,” Dr. Shaw said, “Seeing many of my patients get it and die is a very personal thing for me. I have signed a lot of death certificates as COVID-19 this year.”