HANCOCK COUNTY — After masks have been such a big part of daily life for the past two years, health and school officials have hailed relaxed COVID-19 guidelines as life in the middle of the virus is entering a new phase.
And while the novel coronavirus has taken a lot less toll lately, a hospital official says it’s important to remain vigilant and understand that the disease will likely persist in one form or another well into the future.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the new set of measures late last month for communities where COVID-19 is loosening its grip, with less focus on positive test results and more on what’s going on. in the hospital.
The new system dramatically changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and places most of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus poses a low or medium threat to hospitals. These are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
Hancock County’s community level was low on Monday.
Craig Felty, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at Hancock Regional Hospital, agrees with the latest guidelines.
“It depends more on the severity of the disease than the disease itself,” Felty said.
He noted that many people infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 and some with the delta variant of the disease had no symptoms.
“Although they are contagious, they do not necessarily pose a risk to the region’s health system, whereas those with risk factors, who fall ill, put a strain on the region’s health system” , Felty said. noted.
Hancock Regional Hospital was treating a COVID-19 patient Monday morning, Felty said. The number of COVID-19 cases the county is adding daily continues to be in the single digits.
Despite the pandemic’s recent pattern of lulls in daily case counts leading to massive surges, Felty doesn’t think the latest loosening of guidelines is premature.
“I think we are seeing a relaxation in the numbers. I don’t think we are seeing a relaxation of the potential of hospitals and their ability to fall back if necessary,” he said. “We will always maintain this preparation. Nothing says there won’t be another variant on the road. We don’t see that at the moment.
Dr. Gary Sharp, Hancock County Health Officer, agrees.
“Looking around the world, incidents seem to be decreasing,” Sharp said. “We tend to follow Europe and South Africa. If that holds up, I think things look pretty smooth for a while.
The CDC still advises people, including school children, to wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high.
But with increased protection from immunity — both from vaccination and from infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the agency said.
The new recommendations do not change the obligation to wear masks on public transport and inside airports, train stations and bus stations. However, the CDC no longer requires the wearing of masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and education/child care programs.
As the new guidelines create a long-awaited reprieve in many cases, Felty said it’s important to remain cautious about the virus. He encourages people to continue to keep a safe distance from each other and to wear masks if around others at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
“Our recommendation is that it doesn’t hurt to keep your mask on,” Felty said.
He suspects the coatings will continue to remain a tool to thwart the spread of the virus in the future.
“I don’t think masks are ever going to go away,” he said.
They are always needed in the hospital.
“It shows you that obviously it’s still here, and we still have to do everything we can to stop it from spreading,” Felty said of the disease. “We always maintain our guard. It’s just such an unpredictable pandemic. We’re definitely smarter, and we’re definitely more informed, and I think we’re better prepared to go back if the need arises.
The CDC’s latest change to masks on school buses prompted all public school corporations in Hancock County to discontinue the old requirement.
This follows schools dropping mask mandates in buildings and updated state guidelines last month no longer recommending contact tracing and quarantine in schools.
Wes Anderson, director of school and community relations for the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County, said the new bus recommendation is another welcome change.
“It’s nice to start getting back to that sense of normalcy a little bit,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.