By Dr. Anthony Policastro

It is interesting that there is a lot of confusion about guidance during the current surge. People are wondering why there cannot be specific guidelines for everyone. Unfortunately, there is no way that can happen. 

Individuals are different. Some have had two doses of vaccine plus a booster. Some have not had the booster. Some have had one dose. Some have had none. The guidelines for all four groups are different.

Some people are older and at risk for that reason. Others have underlying conditions and are high risk for that reason. Some individuals have no risk factors. Risk decreases with lower age. The guidelines for all these groups are different.

Outdoor activities are lower risk than indoor activities. Indoor activities are affected by the number of people. They are affected by the length of time. They are affected by the ventilation system. They are affected by social distancing. They are affected by vaccination status. They are affected by number of people wearing masks. They are affected by type of activity (things like singing being a particular issue). The guidelines for each of these situations is different.

Those asking for a clear cut set of guidelines fail to notice that it is impossible to provide any that cover all individuals in all situations. 

Some approaches are simple. If you are eligible for a vaccine, getting it makes you safer. 

If you have any symptoms, you should wear a mask when around others. Make sure the mask is not one that is so old that it does not provide an adequate seal around your face. 

If you are indoors with other people for an extended period of time and do not know everyone’s vaccination status, you should wear a mask. 

You should carry around hand sanitizer. You should use it after touching foreign objects. These include door handles. They include gas pumps. They include banisters. They include other objects that multiple people handle.

When you go to a restaurant, you need to use hand sanitizer before you put food in your mouth. That is especially true for finger food. That is also especially true after you have touched things like salt and pepper shakers or condiment bottles.

There are no easy answers. There is no guidance that will fit all people in all circumstances. We just need to learn what things make sense for us to do personally. That will vary with our own individual situation. 

If the Omicron wave does indeed only last through the end of January, then the time frame for doing these things will be limited.

COVID update- Nationally, the number of new cases was 5,121,000 last week. It was 5,733,000 this week. In Sussex County last week’s number was 3,459. It rose to 5,157 this week.

Much has been made of how mild the Omicron strain is. One thing has been lost in the process. Even though the mortality rate is lower, the total number of cases is so high that the total number of deaths continue to rise. 

Some people have tried to compare it to the annual flu. The average annual flu mortality is about 35,000 deaths. Omicron has caused over 38,000 deaths in the three weeks since Christmas. It has already matched the flu totals and is still going strong.

South Africa had Omicron first. It peaked at the 12 day point and returned to baseline after 42 days. 

The United Kingdom saw the next surge. They started at about 57,000 new cases per day. It peaked at 218,376 cases at the 22 day point and has started returning to baseline. By the 35th day they had dropped to 71,000.

The U.S. cases began rising on Dec. 20. They appeared to peak on Jan. 11. That was the 22nd day. Hopefully, we will follow that same 42 day pattern. That would make Jan. 31 the 42nd day.