We’re Still Fighting COVID – Do You Know Your Risks?

Knowing Your Risk of Severe COVID

It may already be the middle of 2021, but most of us still let out that long sigh of relief that 2020 is behind us. The COVID pandemic and all the craziness, uncertainty, chaos, and sadness that ensued left us with a year we’d like to forget, but one that has left a mark on our society and our individual lives forever. We may have been left feeling unsafe in so many ways that have never concerned us before, but one thing is for sure, it’s safe to say that we hope we never experience a year like that again.

Nevertheless, as most of us are now breathing a breath of unmasked, fresh air, we can look back and realize that not everything we experienced was for the worst. The pandemic caused us to take stock of what’s truly important; reconnect with family (from a safe distance); to cherish the time we get with loved ones, and to reevaluate our priorities. Humanity is incredibly resilient, and we instinctively take the bad and bring the best outcomes from it more often than not. From those existential ponderings to the practical reconfiguring of how we function in daily life (i.e., working from home instead of the office), we’ve managed to climb out of the COVID dirt and keep inventing new ways of expressing what it is to be a person in the world.

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Right now, nearly 50% of Americans are vaccinated. Most restrictions are being slowly removed in the majority of states all over the country. We’re feeling a sense of relief, but it’s important to understand the reality of what we’re in so that this relief can be long-lasting and not just an inhale before another plunge.

In the last two weeks of March 2021, COVID cases actually increased by 20% across the country. Some of this could be due to a misunderstanding of what the vaccine can really do. Although vaccines are now available to every American, it can take months for herd immunity to occur. We simply don’t yet know whether or not vaccinated individuals can still spread the disease to unvaccinated individuals. Now, with nearly 20 states having lifted safety precautions and with less compliance with social distancing, we see a spread of highly contagious, vaccine-resistant mutations. Although vaccine hesitancy fell by more than half from December to March, the fact is that viral mutations could potentially cause the fourth wave.

Eighty-eight percent of epidemiologists agree that low vaccination rates in some countries could lead to vaccine-resistant strains.  Two out of three also believe that these mutated strains will render first-generation vaccines ineffective by 2022.  They believe that herd immunity can only occur if 70-85% of the population is vaccinated.

This vaccine quandary leads us to the conclusion that vaccines offer good protection but not total protection. No vaccine is 100% effective, and existing vaccines will be less effective against new strains of the virus. To truly end the pandemic, even vaccinated individuals need to continue using some precautions to slow the spread of the current virus and to slow the emergence of new variants. It’s also important for individuals to understand their personal risk of contracting the virus and the potential for the severity of symptoms.

Although no individual is the same, certain conditions indicate a higher risk of contracting a severe infection from COVID-19. These high-risk indicators are cancer, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s & dementia, diabetes, heart conditions, immunocompromised, liver disease, overweight & obesity, and pregnancy. Knowing your personal risks and taking necessary precautions can help everyone return to normal life more quickly. Individuals can decide whether or not they fall into the high-risk category and take it upon themselves to take recommended precautions. While most of the population can use standard precautions such as hand washing and wearing masks, those at high risk can use more precautions such as social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

If individuals are aware of their personal risk levels, they can decide how much risk they are willing to take. The result of risk-based precautions benefits everyone. High-risk individuals will be provided better care as additional therapies can be administered before they develop severe disease. Safety measures also become more appealing to the public as compliance with recommended precautions is left up to the individual based on their own understanding of their personal risk level. Allowing the public the freedom to decide for themselves will likely increase compliance with necessary precautions, which will slow the spread of the virus.

One of the problems with using this risk-based precaution method is that 1 in 4 individuals is potentially miscategorized for their risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. Fortunately, there is now a solution to this problem. An at-home COVID-19 risk test is now available, which can determine each individual’s risk for developing severe COVID symptoms. This test considers 16 comorbidities and genetic markers. It improves risk predictions by 25% over standard clinical models, and individuals can receive their risk score and detailed reports within 5-7 days.

It feels wonderful to be moving about more freely than we have for the past year (and then some), but it is also important to remember that we are not completely out of the woods just yet. Along with our new, re-prioritized outlook on life should come a load of patience from all we’ve been through in such a short time. Yes, we can be grateful for vaccines that are working and for that slow return to normal routines and comforts of everyday life, but we’re still in this together, and we’re still in the fight for our lives. This virus is still developing, and we, and our battle methods, are developing with it.

Let us all remember to do everything we can as individuals to take on this enemy and protect one another.


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