COVID cases are up. How worried should you be?
Rising COVID counts on Cape Cod have been in the headlines. Cape Cod Health News (CCHN) asked William Agel, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer for Cape Cod Hospital and Cape Cod Healthcare, for advice on how to safely go about our daily lives.
CCHN: Is there a cause for concern?
Dr. Agel: We're seeing across the country and across the Commonwealth an increasing number of cases of COVID-19 and so, too, across Cape Cod. Anytime we see those case numbers go up, it's some cause for concern. But you do need to take it in the context of what kind of disease is out there and what we're seeing here in the hospital.
People don’t necessarily need to be worried because of what town they live in, but I think they do need to be worried based on their vaccination status.
The currently available vaccines – whether it's the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna or the Pfizer vaccines – all provide robust protection against any of the known variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, which is giving so many people cause for concern.
That being said, no vaccine is completely protective, and it's estimated that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of people who have been vaccinated can still get an infection. But overwhelmingly, those infections would be very mild disease. Not the type of illness that causes hospitalizations, except in rare cases where we see people who were particularly ill beforehand or have immune compromise. So, it's certainly a time to be cautious, but certainly not to be overly afraid.
CCHN: Should people go back to wearing masks in some situations?
Dr. Agel: Everybody's going to make their own decisions on what they feel is their level of tolerance of risk. If you're going to be in a place that's fairly crowded inside and you're not sure that the folks there have been vaccinated, it might be reasonable to consider wearing a mask or avoiding that situation if you can. But the most important thing to do is to make sure that you're vaccinated if you haven't been.
CCHN: How about a small group gathering of family or friends where you're confident that everyone has been vaccinated?
Dr. Agel: The risk is quite low. Certainly, it's quite low for you to contract COVID or if you were to contract COVID, the risk would be very, very low that you would get seriously ill from it in that setting. If, however, I was a person who had an underlying medical illness that put me at higher risk or perhaps I had some form of immune compromise or was getting some sort of treatment that caused my immune system to be weaker, such as cancer treatments or steroid treatments, I might want to be cautious in that setting.
CCHN: If someone works in an indoor setting where masks are optional for employees, should they consider wearing a mask?
Dr. Agel: Again, that's up to the individual and applicable local guidelines. If you're immunized and you don't have any significant health problems, I think that's probably a pretty low-risk situation. If you haven’t been immunized and you're in a situation where you would be indoors with other people who may not be immunized, it's probably worthwhile to wear a mask.
CCHN: Are there precautions that parents might want to consider if they have children who are too young to be vaccinated (under 12)?
Dr. Agel: I think it's certainly something to talk to their pediatricians about, but I think all the reasonable precautions that I've outlined are good for kids as well.
CCHN: Last winter it was difficult to get a vaccination appointment. Now it's a walk-in process, right?
Dr. Agel: Correct. You can get a COVID vaccine at the Cape Cod Healthcare pharmacies or at any of the major pharmacies on Cape Cod. CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are all carrying vaccines, and it's an easy process to just go ahead and get it done.