By Mary Koithan, Mark Leid and John Tomkowiak
Are we wearing masks or not? Do the vaccines work or not? And for how long? What about social distancing?
It can be confusing to keep up with the messages and directives about COVID-19 prevention, which evolve with new scientific findings and developments in the pandemic’s course.
SARS-CoV-2 is a complex disease and we are just beginning to understand how it mutates and behaves.
The new recommendations on masking, for example, are in response to a rise in infections caused by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus. The first case of the delta variant in the United States wasn’t diagnosed until March 2021, but it already accounts for 80% of new COVID-19 cases in this country. Therefore, any mitigation strategies and recommendations made earlier need to be re-evaluated based on emerging data and new information.
It’s bound to be like that for some time to come. That’s why we all need to avoid thinking and acting in absolutes. Just because masks are not needed one week doesn’t mean they won’t be needed in the future. And yes, we all may need a booster vaccination – or we may not. Those studies are under way.
Yet, we do have lessons of history to guide us.
As the deans of Washington State University’s colleges of nursing, pharmacy and medicine, we know that vaccination is a tried-and-true public health mechanism that helped this country effectively eradicate earlier deadly diseases like smallpox and polio. We also know that common-sense methods such as hand-washing, masks and quarantines have been used for a century or more to reduce the spread of infection.
The COVID-19 vaccines are new, but the science indicates they are safe and effective. Though there have been reported complications, we believe the benefits outweigh the risks for the general population, although we would always recommend consultation with your healthcare provider if you have individual concerns.
If you want a vaccine and don’t have one yet, Washington State University Health Sciences is offering vaccination clinics on our Spokane campus later this month and in September. The clinics are free and open to the public. They will be staffed by faculty and students, in partnership with the Spokane Regional Health District. You’ll find more information and links to reserve an appointment at spokane.wsu.edu/vaccine-clinics.
So, what do we see as the best course of action now and probably in the foreseeable future? Given the complex nature of this virus, we believe the approach should be multi-faceted: vaccines, masking, prudence in social interactions and basic hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces and staying home if you’re sick.
We all know the drill.
We’re weary of it too, but the trauma of the last 18 months is still fresh in our minds. The hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions who may experience lifelong effects from contracting COVID-19. The essential workers who shouldered considerable personal risk just by going to work each day. Students and their families who made the best of a less-than-perfect learning environment. Let’s not return to that because we’re tired of wearing masks or won’t consider a vaccine.
We wish there were an easy way to get past this, but there’s not. Instead, like most of the challenges we’ve collectively faced in the past, it will take sustained effort from us all.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.