If history is a guide, COVID will spike again over the winter
Although the COVID-19 pandemic might be waning, the Wayne County Health Department is encouraging people to keep their vaccinations up to date, with the next few months expected to be an important time in preventing a resurgence of the illness.
And because the rate of vaccinations against other diseases dropped significantly during the pandemic, the department is sponsoring a Vaccination Summit in just over two weeks.
Because of at-home testing for COVID-19, the state is no longer reporting positivity rates on its online COVID dashboard, according to Christine Stinson, the county health department executive director. Dr. David Jetmore, the county health officer, said that for most of the past two years, COVID numbers moved up or down in trends lasting several weeks or months. For the past couple of months, figures have varied greatly from week to week, reflecting the unreliability of accurate data.
Rather, what health officials are watching is the strain on local health care, such as the number of patients with COVID being treated by hospitals, Stinson said. Recent reports from Reid Health have shown few COVID patients there.
But if COVID behaves as it did in 2020 and 2021, numbers will spike starting in the end of November and continuing to January. Stinson encourages county residents to get vaccinated, noting that the Health Department now offers the bivalent boosters that protect against the original COVID strain as well as new varieties. People 12 years and older who have had their first shot and at least one booster should get the new booster; people who haven’t started the vaccination process should, she said.
The Health Department, at 100 S. 5th St. in Richmond, offers walk-in vaccination clinics on weekdays. Several local pharmacies and doctors’ offices, as well as Reid Health, also offer the vaccinations.
Dr. Jetmore said that the vaccines are very effective. While 21% of people who have had the vaccines still get COVID, that means the vaccines are nearly 80% effective. It also means that even people who have been vaccinated should still take precautions, such as not being in situations where they are exposed to people with COVID.
At the Wayne County Health Board’s Sept. 15 meeting, Stinson also talked of a related issue: the drop in vaccination rates for other conditions, such as measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and mumps. During the pandemic, a significant number of people – locally as well as nationwide – did not get vaccinated.
To help remedy this, Stinson and the county Health Department are organizing a Vaccine Summit for the community and health care professionals. It will be from 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, in Lingle Hall at Reid Health. The main purpose is to combat vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance of people to get vaccinated against communicable diseases. Largely, she said, that’s the result of fear caused by misinformation.
Dr. Jerome Adams, appointed by President Donald Trump as the U.S. surgeon general from 2017-21, will be the keynote speaker. Stinson said. Dr. Kristina Box, the Indiana state health commissioner, will also speak at the summit.
In other vaccination news, Dr. Jetmore said there have been no cases of monkeypox reported in Wayne County but 189 statewide as of Sept. 15. Monkeypox vaccine is available at the Health Department.
Stinson also reported that the Health Department has been mandated by a new state law to follow up on complaints related to eyelash extensions. The department will be adding a complaint form to its website when the law takes effect Oct. 1.
She also reported that five or more department heads from the state health department will be visiting the local department on Sept. 30. It’s an effort by the state to see how local departments operate and get to know their counterparts at the local level.