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As COVID appears to wane, what will the new normal look like?


Now that there are three COVID vaccines and the United States is starting to see infection rates go down, and as some states are relaxing restrictions, how will we know when the pandemic is over? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“What is clear is that there has been a decrease in the total number of cases, and there’s also a decrease in the number of hospital admissions. Hospitals are not being overwhelmed, and at the same time we’re having an increased number of people who are getting vaccinated. Plus, there’s all the people who have already been infected and have some natural immunity,” Dr. Cohen said.

“Overall, you would say that things are heading in the right direction. I think that makes it difficult to know exactly what to expect,” he added. “I mean, we’re heading into a period of time, into a season where we would expect some natural seasonal variation anyway.”

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With many of the indicating factors showing a significant decrease in cases, Dr. Cohen says this could point to an end, but that likely isn’t the case considering the history of these types of infections.

“I suspect in the next few months we’re actually going to have a pretty low number of infections occurring, and we’re not going to have a lot of severe cases — not a lot of deaths and hospital admissions, relatively speaking. And so it’s going to appear as though it’s over. Now, that could be the case,” he said.

“However, it probably isn’t the case, given that we know sort of the natural history of these types of infections, it’s likely that when the winter rolls around, people start to stay indoors, and there is likely to be an increase in the number of infections, despite people having gotten vaccinated or having some natural immunity,” he explained. “So this poses a sort of difficult scenario for us to actually determine … when it’s over.”

As KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross asked, if we voluntarily started wearing masks whenever we’re in a crowded setting indoors, would that kind of self-regulation minimize any chance of a comeback?

“I mean, masks have been proven to make a difference,” Cohen replied. “We know that not only because it’s impacted the number of COVID cases, but as you know, we’ve seen less cases of the flu this year, we’ve seen less serious flu this year, and we’ve seen less colds and other similar type of respiratory viruses this year.”

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“So there’s no question that these types of interventions — masks, and social distancing, and whatnot — can make a difference on transmittable illnesses,” he added. “The question is, is it something that we are going to do? Is this our new normal, or is it something that’s just temporary? … The bigger question is in terms of overall public health, are we as a society going to choose to wear masks all the time and socially distance all the time so that we reduce the chance of getting any sort of illness?”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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