By Dr. Irwin Redlener
Having trouble keeping up with pandemic news? You’re in good company. Most of us are a bit overwhelmed by the proverbial firehose of new data, opinions and speculation that’s always headed our way.
As I’ve spoken with family, friends and many neighbors right here on the Upper West Side for almost two years about what’s happening with this vicious SARS-CoV-2 virus, the most common question is: When do we get back to normal?
That question is particularly fraught, in part because we don’t share a common sense of what a post-pandemic “normal” would actually look like. And a painful truth is that even the experts are mostly guessing when they speculate about when we’ll be done with all of this pandemic turmoil. Personally, I’d even be satisfied if we get to a state where the virus becomes endemic; just part of life.
Let’s do a lightning round to keep current with the latest Covid-19 news.
Are rapid in-home Covid tests less accurate than we hoped?
Yes – and this is especially true with false negatives. Here’s what happens: you’ve been exposed, you have the kind of upper respiratory symptoms consistent with the Omicron variant, including sore throat, low-grade fever and cough. Assuming you can get your hands on a few rapid home tests, you do the nasal swab routine on 2 or 3 consecutive days. Every test shows a negative result.
What to do? First, what not to do. Do not have contact with grandma or any vulnerable unvaccinated people. And stay out of public areas until you can confirm if you are or are not actually carrying Covid-19.
What you should do is get a PCR test. And wear a good (not cloth) mask. Under these circumstances, the PCR will help determine if you actually have or have had Covid-19. (And keep an eye out for new rapid tests manufactured by Siemens and Roche that the FDA says are far better than existing tests in detecting Omicron.)
Has the Omicron variant surge peaked?
If you live in New York or many other parts of the Northeast, it’s hard to ignore a potential leveling off or data suggesting the beginning of a real downturn. Johns Hopkins University reports daily Covid cases hit a peak of 85,000/day in our State on January 9, but are now down to an average of 51,500 cases/day as of last week.
And in the City? Cases of Covid-19 are down some 31%.
Even if the surge continues to abate and the pressures on our hospitals are truly relieved, outbreaks are still heading to other parts of the country and the world. And, yes, if we mirror the pattern observed in South Africa or the U.K, we could be headed in the right direction. But if our pattern tracks what is being observed in Brazil and other counties, we could be facing a longer surge of Omicron than we had hoped.
New York City schools will be allowing some remote learning; now what?
It is undoubtedly the Omicron variant that is responsible for the resurgence of classroom chaos in our schools. There are many opinions and proposed policies at play, but, truly, this is nobody’s fault. Mayor Adams has been calm and thoughtful, as have the teachers and staff desperately wanting to keep classrooms open. But they were foiled by Omicron! Parents and students, too, understand the need to keep kids in school. Still, everyone involved in this high-intensity education crisis also wants to make sure that children and all school staff remain healthy and safe.
That said, absenteeism in the City has been extraordinary. Last Friday some 25% – or 234,500 students stayed home. So if we are going to have some level of remote learning, let’s do it right! Meaning we must make sure that every at-home student has a working tablet or laptop, that lessons are clear, that the kids have access to teachers and a quiet place to learn.
These criteria may be doable for many UWS families. That’s good. But too many children in our city live at or near the poverty level and may not have access to the assets necessary to organize a decent remote-learning experience.
Let me know how you think we can best deal with this very serious challenge.
Dr. Redlener is founding director of the Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia; professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; cofounder of the Children’s Health Fund; MSNBC public health analyst; and Upper West Sider. Let him know in the comments what you think, and what you’d like him to address in next Tuesday’s column. Opinions are Dr. Redlener’s, not endorsed by the Rag.