It’s unlikely that a new surge of COVID-19 cases would trigger a mask mandate or switch to virtual schools, said the chief physician at the Division of Public Health.
“At this point, we’ve had three years of experience,” said Dr. Greg Wanner, who also is an emergency physician. “We have now widespread availability of effective vaccines and treatments, which we really did not have earlier in the pandemic. I think with those advances in vaccines and treatments, I would not expect to see a return to mandatory masking or widespread virtual schooling.”
It takes time to appraise the impact of how variants like Pirola, which is said to be more infectious than other strains, will affect a community, Wanner said.
The department still tracks the number of COVID-19 cases and does expect them to keep rising, Wanner said. Public Health reported 537 new positive cases last week, with 297 of those in New Castle County.
In recent weeks, the state has seen a steady increase in the number of cases and in the detection of Pirola in wastewater, which is an indication that the virus is circulating more than it has been reported.
“When taking that into account and then looking back at the past three years, I think it is very well likely that we’ll see quite a bit more COVID into the fall and winter. but I don’t think we’ll see a surge like we did two years ago,” Wanner said.
The pandemic was marked with a series of surges, and one of the worst was during the start of 2022 when highly infectious cases spread during the holidays and came close to closing down businesses and schools in January.
So many people were forced to stay home to comply with quarantine and isolation recommendations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their rules.
Rules on isolating
Wanner said recommendations now say that anyone infected with COVID should stay home for five days, counting the first day as the day symptoms begin or the person tests positive.
After five days, he said, they can leave isolation, but should wear a mask when around other people to prevent the spread of the illness.
However, he said, if they test themselves on day 6 and test negative and then test again 48 hours later, on day 8, and still test negative, they don’t have to wear a mask around other people.
Masks are effective at helping to prevent the spread of COVID and helping to prevent wearers from getting COVID, he said.
“But they’re not perfect,” he said. “And I think that’s where people get hung up. It’s not an all or none. If it reduces your chance of getting COVID by a percentage, that’s something that’s helpful.”
Wanner has worked in emergency rooms throughout the pandemic.
Even at the top of surges, he said, he didn’t get COVID at work and he credits wearing a mask for that.
He was infected with COVID, however, by his daughter, who caught it at school.
“I still wear my mask during every shift in the emergency department, just because it is a higher risk environment,” he said. “I don’t wear it when I go out to the store. I often have one with me in case I’m standing in line and someone’s coughing next to me. I sort of do a risk assessment based on where I am and my environment.
“I would encourage other people to do the same. Look at your own risks, your own personal risks, your health risks, and the environment you’re in and then decide if you want to you want to wear a mask.”
About 77% of the state’s population have had at least one vaccine, which public health officials credit with making many cases milder than feared.
The state’s public health clinics will continue to offer free vaccinations with the new vaccine said to include the Pirola variant as soon as they are available. Those who’d like to get one can check the state vaccine finder here or the federal vaccine finder here for locations near them.
Those who want vaccines also can get them through their own doctors and at drug stores, Wanner said.
Many people test positive at home and never go to the doctor or a clinic for help, the state is continuing its test to treat program that allows people to be tested and, in many cases, given antiviral medication on the spot.
Some people said during the last surge that they would call their doctors who would tell them to let the office know if the case got worse or they had any problems.
While the Department of Public Health is careful not to interfere with the relationship between a patient and doctor, Wanner said patients sometimes must make decisions for themselves.
Some people may have underlying conditions that they are afraid could contribute to a bad bout with COVID.
Some patients may want to seek help if that patient is worried about the impact of the virus.
When Wanner gets a patient who tests positive and has underlying issues, he talks to the patient about antivirals and lets them decide.
Some people cannot take antivirals because they are on medication that conflicts with them. Others don’t want to take another medicine.
To be effective, antivirals must be taken within five days of showing symptoms, Wanner said.
Go with what you know
Most people already know the basic steps they can take to protect themselves, he said.
“We all collectively have a lot of experience,” Wanner said. “I would just recommend that people not forget all the usual precautions: Stay home if you’re sick. Test if you have COVID-like symptoms. Wash your hands. Isolate at home if you test positive. Wear a mask if you’re sick or if you’re high risk or or if you just want to wear a mask.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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