As more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19, many people are beginning to wonder when can we declare the pandemic over. Dr. Aaron Carroll, of the IU School of Medicine, says a good first step would be to agree on our definition of an ending. While cases are stalled or rising in many areas, virus variants are becoming more prevalent. And while many people are vaccinated, many more are not. Additionally, hospitalizations and deaths are still occurring, especially in those groups not yet fully immunized. With community spread is far too rampant, risks still abound, suggesting it is too early to declare victory yet, Carroll says. But things are significantly better than they were a few months ago. Carroll says as we continue to improve, it would be useful to have guidance on how we might ease the policies that have kept us protected. Too many people, though, are unwilling to talk about any lowering of our guard — even in the future — because some danger still exist, he says. They want to know that no one is dying of COVID-19 in their community anymore, or they want to know that there are no cases in the area and that there is no chance of their being exposed. Carroll says he understands that sentiment but it is not realistic, nor reasonable. Such extreme vigilance can also backfire, he says as each day we wait, more people become impatient and abandon their posts. Normal has never meant “perfectly safe.” A safer world will likely still have COVID-19 in it. Carroll says ideally, we should reduce restrictions gradually while we closely monitor the situation. He says we will still need to test widely, even asymptomatic people, to measure our progress. Should all go well, eventually, we could get rid of masking requirements and if enough people are vaccinated and transmissions slow, we will reach a place where we are much, much safer than we are now. Carroll says Americans are generally willing to live with a greater-than-zero level of risk in exchange for what we used to consider a normal life. He says the important thing for people to do is to strike a balance between the ideal and the doable.
In other news, 32 million Americans live with potentially life-threatening food allergies, including one in 13 children. May is Food Allergy Awareness Month, and IUPUI’s Jennifer Bute, who has developed a course designed to help parents consider and prepare for challenging conversations that occur when managing food allergies, has some tips on effective strategies for parents to communicate about their child’s food allergies. Bute says there’s no cure for food allergies, and with just one FDA-approved treatment for one specific allergen, food allergies are managed through communication. In the absence of treatment, Bute says parents have to talk to servers at restaurants, carefully read labels, talk to the host of birthday parties and family events, among many other things, to ensure their child is safe. It requires daily communication to manage a food allergy effectively. Bute says it is also important for parents to take a team approach using non-defensive communication when explaining about their child’s food allergies, to craft different messages for different people, and to use communication self-care since it requires so much communication work to manage a child’s food allergies.