As of August 20, 2022, nearly 6.5 million people across the world have died from COVID, including almost 1.1 million Americans. Family and friends now miss each decedent, and many people are grieving. In the US, we have reached a high plateau of 400-500 people per day who are dying from COVID. Prior to March 2020, COVID was not even on our radar screens. However, for 2022, experts now predict that it will be the 4 th leading cause of death in the U.S. – just behind heart disease, cancer, and accidental deaths.
I Would Have Been Viewed as Crazy
What if I had told you in late 2019 that a viral infection was going to kill more than one million Americans, that it would “level out” at 400-500 dead Americans per day, and that it would be the 3rd or 4th leading cause of death? You would have thought that I was crazy! Yet, that is exactly where we are at today! COVID will likely kill more people this year than stroke, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease. Should we care?
Fall of 2022: The Time of Infection and Re-Infection
Today, I know more people who have COVID or who have been reinfected with COVID than at any time during the pandemic. Why? Because the virus has changed. The high rate of new infections and re-infections today is due to the high prevalence of BA.5, a sub-variant of Omicron. Therefore, the virus is new. The original vaccines and boosters were not designed to combat BA.5. Furthermore, the immunity created by the original vaccines or by natural infection from older forms of the SARS-CoV-2 is waning. Thus, it is now possible to be reinfected with COVID every 30 days. I know a guy that has now had COVID five times!! Yikes!
Viruses are Not Alive
Most evolutionary biologists would say that viruses are not alive and have no intelligence. Viruses are proteins and genetic material that survive by infecting another life form – a host (e.g., animals and/or humans) and then replicating inside that host. In the absence of a host, viruses have a difficult time staying alive and cannot replicate. In fact, most viruses cannot survive on hard, smooth, surfaces for longer than 10-12 hours. Viruses need you to stay alive!
The Variants Have Changed the Pandemic
The survival of viruses is driven by the evolutionary process. Those viruses that are more infectious
have an advantage over others not as infectious. You might think of it as “survival of the fittest.”
Each time that the virus infects someone, the virus makes millions of copies of itself inside that person’s body. Sometimes those copies contain random errors. Most of these random errors are innocuous and do not give the virus any advantage. However, when a random copy error gives the virus an advantage in survival (e.g., it becomes easier to spread), a “variant of concern” is created.
Reasons Why We Are at Such High Risk
There are numerous reasons why Americans are at such elevated risk. First, the virus has changed to be highly infectious. It is now most dominant variant in the US. Second, we have stopped efforts to reduce infection, namely wearing respiratory protection, physical distancing, increasing air filtration and ventilation (was never started in many places), and quarantining infected/exposed individuals to remove them from the population until they are not infectious. Third, emerging research is indicating that up to 50% of those infected do not even recognize that they are infected. Thus, BA.5 is likely being spread to others unknowingly. Fourth, many are now using rapid antigen type home tests to determine if they are infected. Yet, the accuracy of rapid antigen tests is considerably lower than PCR tests and has led to false negatives. Furthermore, many positive results of home tests are never reported to public health. Thus, the true number of infected in the US is unknown. Fifth, many health departments and organizations are no longer report their data daily. This leads to a time lag in important indicators. Sixth, many health departments have cut back on contact tracing because of lack of staff, the difficulty in reaching people, and getting people to respond positively.
Getting COVID is NOT like Getting the Flu
Perhaps you think that getting COVID is like getting the flu. It is not. Although influenza and COVID-19 are both caused by contagious respiratory viruses and can have similar symptoms, they are NOT the same. Major differences include: 1) The two diseases are caused by different viruses, 2) COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu, 3) COVID can cause more serious illness, 4) The flu does not shrink brain volume like COVID does, 4) The flu does not cause blood clots in the lungs, heart, or brain, 5) Many more people die from COVID than from the flu 6) There is no “long flu” like there is “long COVID,” 7) COVID usually takes longer before people show symptoms and, 8) People with COVID typically remain contagious for longer periods of time than people with the flu.
Steps for Reducing the Risks of Infection
For your benefit, I have listed these risk-reduction strategies (directly from published science) in order of effectiveness.
- Vaccination: Although immunity from the original vaccines and boosters is waning and will not prevent infection, becoming fully vaccinated (three shots) and getting boosted (4th shot) is still the most effective way to stay out of the hospital and avoid death. Contrary to what is on social media, the vaccine is one of the safest that we have ever created. I wish that aspirin and Tylenol were as safe! Thus, at school, all faculty members, staff, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, and any other adults who have contact with students should be fully vaccinated and boosted. Schools should require this of all who interact with students. Likewise, all kids ages 5 and over should also be vaccinated. Parents have the right to ask school administrators if adults who are in contact with their children are fully vaccinated and boosted.
- Air Exchange and Filtration: The gold standard in air filtration is using HEPA 13 filters and frequent air exchanges. The air in any indoor space should be exchanged at least 5 times per hour. This can be done via HVAC systems and/or portable HEPA air filters in each room. If money is an issue, check out this link:
Therefore, anyone who works inside with others, attends class with others, or is in any indoor space with others should ask the person in charge of the building: Is the air exchanged in this office, classroom, restaurant, auditorium, etc. at least 5 times per hour? If the person in charge cannot answer that question, then I recommend that you do not spend time in that indoor space until ventilation and filtration are improved.
- Physical Distancing: The recommendation of 3′ or 6′ of physical distance between people was always erroneous. It was not based on modern science. Ten feet is better. Fifteen feet is even better. Thirty feet is even better! The virus spreads through large droplets and aerosols. Furthermore, the BA.5 subvariant is among the most infectious viruses we have ever seen. The virus is in the air – much like cigarette smoke. Can you smell cigarette smoke, even outdoors, from 3 feet away? From 6 feet away? Of course, you can! Do we really think that the virus is going to magically stop at 3 feet? At 6 feet? Since up to half of infected people do not even know that they are infected and no one wears respiratory protection any longer, I recommend that people be as far apart as possible in relation to the amount of ventilation and air filtration in the room. Tell those in your sphere of influence to pretend that everyone that they encounter is smoking a nasty smelling cigarette. Thus, give that person lots of clearance and stand/sit as far away to avoid breathing the smoke (i.e., the virus).
- Testing and Quarantine: I believe that everyone, especially students, staff, administrators, and faculty at schools should be tested frequently. Even those who are fully vaccinated and boosted should be tested frequently. Why? Because the virus is different now and it is a new pandemic. Even the fully vaccinated and boosted can now be infected repeatedly and spread the virus to others at school, to their family members, and to co-workers. The original vaccines and boosters were designed for the original version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They do NOT protect you from being infected with this new variant. Within minutes of swapping air with someone who is infected, you can be infected.
True experts in infectious disease say that those who test positive for COVID-19 (PCR tests are best) should be taken out of the population and should be quarantined for 10 days. Research shows that people remain infectious after 5 days. Ten days of isolating from others is best. Those who were exposed to the positive person should also be taken out of the population and quarantined. If we really want to reduce transmission, this is the only way.
- Respiratory Protection: The least effective method of reducing your risk of infection is wearing a face covering. Why? Because most people wear nothing at all to protect their respiratory system. Been out in public lately? I have seen very few people wearing a tight-fitting, N95 or a KN95 respirator – which is best. When I am around others swapping air with them, I either wear a snug-fitting N95 respirator or I “double mask.” Due to being more comfortable for longer periods of time, I often wear a good, well-made ASTM Level 3 face mask with 3-ply protection next to my skin. On top of that, I wear a larger cloth mask with 2-ply protection over the 3-ply mask to hold things more tightly against my face. Thus, I have five layers of protection when I am around others. It is not as good as an N95 or KN95 mask, but it is more comfortable to me. I make sure that the two masks are tightly fitted to my face and do not fog up my glasses. If my glasses fog up, then air is escaping and getting in through gaps, correct?
Because of pandemic fatigue, lack of education, mis/disinformation, political and religious divisiveness, and the factors described above, I predict that we will continue to see at least 400 Americans die every day for the foreseeable future. Is 400-500 dead Americans per day the price we are willing to pay? If not, what are you going to do about it?
We have a responsibility to protect those in our midst who are most at risk for negative, COVID-related health consequences. That means not spreading the virus to the immune suppressed, cancer survivors, people with organ transplants, unvaccinated children, older adults, people with disabilities, people with underlying medical conditions, people of color, and health care providers. Therefore, I will continue to practice these risk-reduction techniques.
Phone: (419) 359- 5798 (text first)
Mail: PO Box 351134, Toledo, OH 43635
Dr. Timothy Jordan has been a health educator (grades 6-12), Assistant High School Principal, Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education for a large health system in northern Ohio, and a Professor of Public Health at a public university in northern Ohio. He has more than 75 peer reviewed research publications and more than 80 peer reviewed presentations. He is the founder and director of the 1795 Group.