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Covid Metrics Continue to Improve

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By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – October showed continuous improvement in Covid metrics. By the last week, the active case level, at 260, was down 43% from September. 
Although the month saw seven residents succumb to the disease, the month’s final week had no new fatalities. The rate of transmission (RT) and the positivity rate ended the month below the desired threshold levels.
Vaccination numbers improved each week during the month, ending with 66% of the county’s population fully vaccinated. With two out of three residents fully vaccinated, 20% of those have now received the booster shot, the virus is finding fewer hosts to infect.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, conducted across 187 hospitals, stated that vaccine immunity offered higher protection against Covid infection than the immunity gained from having had the disease. 
The study released this week concludes that individuals with immunity from a previous Covid infection are five times more likely to be reinfected than those who were vaccinated. 
While the community numbers are improving, the testing mandates are increasing. As of Oct. 18, all public and private teachers were required to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a minimum of once-a-week testing. 
The state is committing $267 million to the testing effort, with various testing protocols being used by school districts. There are 758 public and private school districts subject to the mandate, many of which have multiple schools within the district.
By Nov. 1, all personnel at child care sites must be fully vaccinated or be subject to the same regular testing. As the mandates strain the testing capability, the ability to offer protocols that can easily scale up with volume will become increasingly important.
New regulations on international travel go into effect Nov. 8, when non-U.S. citizens who are not immigrants will be required to be fully vaccinated with proof of their status to fly into the U.S. The CDC says there will be minimalexceptions.
The next vaccination push will come with those 5 to 11 years old. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for that age group, and the CDC is expected to follow suit this coming week. 
The effort may confront a new resistance, as polls show that some parents who have been fully vaccinated are concerned about having the vaccine given to their children.
The FDA has concluded that the benefits of the Covid vaccine for ages 5 to 11 outweigh the risks. Since the start of the pandemic, CDC data suggests that almost 2 million children in the 5- to 11-year-old age group had been infected with the virus. Around 8,300 have been hospitalized and 94 have died. While the vote of the advisory panel was 17-0, some expressed concern that there was not enough flexibility in the vaccine regime to give parents and health providers room to tailor a vaccination program.
One member of the panel, Dr. Michael Kurilla, abstained from the vote, saying, “I think the idea of doing under an emergency use authorization, two doses for everybody without any flexibility around this, I think is just not going to go over very well, and I don’t think it’s going to give the health care community the options and parents the options to choose what’s best for their children,” he said.
Others have suggested that some 5- to 11-year-olds, those with high-risk conditions, should be the ones singled out for vaccination. The CDC meetings beginning Nov. 2 may limit the pool of children eligible for the vaccine. 
A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study in October showed that only 27% of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds said they will get their children vaccinated immediately when the vaccine is authorized. KFF also said that the rate of vaccine uptake has slowed among 12- to 17-year-olds. 
The New Jersey Department of Health has recommended random testing of unvaccinated students when the Covid Activity Level is moderate or higher. All counties in New Jersey presently are designated moderate or higher. So far, the random testing of students is voluntary, and many school systems have not elected to set up a process to accommodate it.
Amid it all, a new drug has surfaced. An inexpensive antidepressant used to treat mental illness shows promise for lowering the rate of death and intensive care for people with Covid. The drug, fluvoxamine, would offer significant benefits over monoclonal antibodies, which are expensive and difficult to use in an outpatient setting. 
Many health officials are looking to further testing in the hopes that the inexpensive drug could be useful in fighting the disease in poorer countries with low vaccination rates.
Just days ago, the CDC announced $26 million in grants to develop next-generation infectious disease forecasting and analytics. Just as people are now seeing once in 100-year storms more frequently, the CDC seeks to prepare for the next once in a 100-year pandemic, which may come sooner than next century.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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