How to stay safe as infection rates rise.

With many states in the U.S reopening, social media and news outlets are starting to buzz about the “second wave” of COVID. Southern and Midwestern states are reporting record high daily cases, while hard hit states like New York are reporting fewer daily cases. Some are calling for a return of mitigating measures, while others are enjoying the slow return to “normal”. But is this truly a second wave of cases being caused by states reopening too soon?

Despite the social media trending and the headline grabbing attention, “second wave” is really just a misnomer. The data shows the number of cases never fell below the crest, or rather never reached, maintained, or fell below a sustainable plateau. Across the country, cases continued to steadily rise. In some areas, like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, the rise has been more drastic in recent weeks. This does not mean, however, that a second wave has occurred in these regions either. The growth was slower, and increased once mitigating efforts were reduced.

So what can you do if you live in an area that has relaxed its COVID prevention policies or has recently experienced a drastic increase in cases? First and foremost, it is important to continue to promote social distancing, hand hygiene, and to wear a face mask in public. When wearing a mask, be sure not to touch your mask- particularly the inside of the mask. Do not share your mask with anyone else and be sure to wash your mask as appropriate. Remember- a face mask prevents you from spreading your germs, so it is important to always wear a mask when indoors with people who do not live with you. You do not need to wear a mask outdoors if you can maintain a safe social distance of 6 feet or greater, but if you find yourself in close proximity to others while outside it is best practice to wear your mask.

The amount of interaction and type engagement you have with other individuals will dictate your risk level. Activities that involve a lot of singing or shouting, like church choirs, bars, sporting events, political rallies, or protests, pose greater risk because proximity to others is increased and the pathogen is transmitted through droplets expelled while we speak, sing, yell, laugh, cough, and sneeze. New research shows that asymptomatic shedding occurs for longer periods of time, for 3-4 weeks, at lower levels. This means even if you don’t exhibit any symptoms, you could be spreading the virus to individuals who are more susceptible. Again, this is why it is important to wear a mask in public spaces. The mask is a measure to prevent other people from getting sick. Hand hygiene is a measure to prevent yourself from getting sick. Social distancing is a measure to keep everyone from getting sick.

If you have been in a high risk environment, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, you should get tested immediately. If you have not been exposed to anyone or visited any high risk areas, but begin to experience symptoms, you should get tested immediately. While you wait for your results, you should quarantine yourself at home to prevent potential spread of the virus. If your results come back positive, you should continue to quarantine yourself at home for 14 days or as directed by the testing center or your provider. If your results come back negative, you should still continue to practice social distancing, hand hygiene, and wear a mask in public to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

Author: Amanda Berard, MS