CLEVELAND — When it comes to the ongoing pandemic, positive developments on the availability and efficacy of vaccines have made continuous headlines in recent weeks. Unfortunately, so has news of a recent uptick in cases, largely attributed to variants of the coronavirus. As people around the country look to gather with loved ones over Easter weekend, the CDC has issued new guidance on those gatherings and the upcoming travel season.
The Centers for Disease Control re-affirmed guidelines released earlier this month that recommend limited gatherings over the Easter holiday. People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely gather for Easter in indoor settings without masks so long as all participants are fully vaccinated.
Full vaccination comes 14 days after the second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or 14 days after the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The CDC still recommends that individuals that aren’t fully vaccinated have their Easter gatherings with only people from within their own household or to have them outdoors with six feet of separation.
“Where we’re at the in the pandemic now is a race between the virus and the vaccines. The vaccines have been incredibly successful and the rollout in the US has been successful but we are seeing an increase in cases,” said Dr. Keith Armitage, an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals. “The reason for that is the vaccines are highly effective in preventing illness, but if you’re vaccinated, you can get asymptomatically infected from an unvaccinated person and then spread it.”
As of Friday afternoon, more than 150 million Americans have at least started the vaccination process, including more than 3.5 million in Ohio. However, Northeast Ohio and the state overall have experienced a recent uptick in cases, especially along the state’s northern border with Michigan, which has seen a large surge in cases in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen great news on the vaccines but we need to be mindful that we’re in a pandemic until we’re not. We’ll get there — I’m optimistic — but we’re not quite there yet,” Armitage said. Experts attribute the regional surges to a higher prevalence of COVID-19 variants. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer, reported the number of Ohio variant cases has grown six-fold in the past two weeks and said the northern counties in zone one have been most impacted along the Michigan, Ohio border, including Sandusky, Erie, and Huron counties.
The variants of the coronavirus have been shown to be more virulent and transmissive.
“I have tremendous pandemic fatigue like everybody else," Armitage said. "It’s hard to restrain ourselves when the news has been so good about the vaccines, but we need to be cautious. One of the precautions I would give people is that we’re seeing more and more cases of ‘long COVID’ with young adults. Its another reason for people to take precautions. People’s lives can be impacted in a negative way even if they aren’t acutely infected with this virus.”
Researchers are still learning more about "long COVID," which causes symptoms of fatigue, headache, "brain fog" and shortness of breath long after the initial infection.
In addition to offering new guidance on Easter gatherings, the CDC has also unveiled their much-anticipated recommendations on travel.
The CDC now says those who are fully vaccinated can now resume travel with low risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Masks are still recommended, along with social distancing and other precautions. For those who are not considered fully-vaccinated, the CDC’s guidance remains to limit travel to necessary trips only, get tested one to three days before a trip and three to five days after a trip, and quarantine before and after the trip.
“I think the CDC is just concerned for a month or two until we get a higher percentage of vaccinated people. The concern is that we get behind some of the other more serious variants that take hold. That’s why they are urging caution on travel,” Armitage said.