By Lisa Reynolds, MD. Pediatrician and State Representative, Oregon House District 36
We are reaching a chilling milestone in the COVID pandemic: 500,000 COVID dead in the US.
The US makes up 4% of the world’s population, but it accounts for 20% of the world’s deaths from COVID. We could have and we should have done more to prevent such a tragic loss of life.
This pandemic has lowered American life expectancy by at least a year - and even more for Black and Latinx Americans.
Oregon has fared much better than the country as a whole. Our case rate and death rate from COVID have been among the lowest in the US. If Oregon had suffered the same rate of death from COVID as the US state as a whole, we would have had triple the number of deaths than what we have seen. Still, 2,000 deaths from COVID in Oregon is a tremendous loss.
Across Oregon, the US, and the world, COVID cases and deaths are plummeting. Here is Oregon:
The worst may be behind us, but only if we continue to take precautions. The highly contagious COVID variants require ongoing safety measures like masking and distancing.
A note on masking: Any mask helps to slow the spread of COVID from person to person. There are mask improvements that better slow the spread. Basically, a tighter fitting mask better prevents the escape of exhaled breath around its edges. This can be achieved with double masking (one example: wear a medical mask under a cloth mask) or using a mask frame. Furthermore, cloth masks should have 2-3 layers and a nose wire to help with fit. Also, the “knot and tuck” maneuver on disposable 3-ply masks makes for more snug fit. For more information on masking, see this CDC page.
The very good news: the COVID vaccine is proving to be very effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID. Since there is uncertainty about whether a vaccinated individual can still carry and transmit disease, we must keep up masking and distancing precautions for a while - at least until we meet herd immunity. Herd immunity is achieved once approximately 90% of us have immunity (antibodies) to COVID from receiving the vaccine. Having been sick with COVID also confers immunity, but it’s not clear (yet) if or when that immunity fades. Folks who have recovered from COVID should still get the vaccine.
Herd immunity means COVID will not travel like wildfire from person to person. Of course, right now, the biggest glitch at attaining herd immunity is needing an approved COVID vaccine for kids.
It’s important to take a minute. To grieve what we’ve lost. To remember those who will no longer join us at holiday meals, or pick up the phone when we call.
It’s important we honor those lost, and love those in our lives, by continuing to mask (double mask) and making the sacrifices to keep ourselves and others safe. Help your loved ones get vaccines as soon as they are eligible and be sure to get one yourself when the time comes. We are nearing a brighter day in this most difficult of years.