GREENSBORO, N.C. — As Guilford County Commissioners drop the indoor mask rule, it feels like we're turning a corner in the pandemic. The question is: are we turning towards the light at the end of the tunnel or is it just another twist in the coronavirus maze?
To answer that, let's start with how we got to the big headline of today. Guilford County commissioners say they dropped the mask rule because our coronavirus numbers are getting better and we reached one milestone. They said we needed either a 70 percent vaccination rate or the positivity rate had to drop below five for three straight weeks. Well our 21 day positivity rate dropped below 5 percent.
Here's why that matters according to researchers at Johns Hopkins: "The percent positive is a critical measure because it gives us an indication how widespread infection is in the area where the testing is occurring — and whether levels of testing are keeping up with levels of disease transmission."
But the CDC sees things differently that the Guilford County Commission. On their website is a section called your guide to masks. You can search by county to see their recommendations. For Guilford County on November 16, 2021, they say we're still in high transmission of the virus. It reads, "Everyone should wear a mask in public indoor settings."
So how do you make sense of those two different views of our coronavirus numbers? Here's how the Guilford County Health Director Iulia Vann puts it:
"I think we're in a position where our metrics are moving in the right direction," she said. "We're seeing some improvement in our positivity rate, our number of cases, we don't have as many people in the hospitals right now as we had before. But we continue to be in a high level of transmission."
How to keep numbers going in right director without masks
WFMY News 2's Ben Briscoe asked you in a poll on his Instagram page: should Guilford county get rid of the mask mandate? 64 percent of people said no.
One person also asked: "if we drop the mask mandate, won't our COVID numbers start going up again?"
The Guilford County Health Director says it's possible to keep the virus in check without the mask mandate if we all still remember the 3 Ws. First wash your hands. Then we have to wait 6 feet apart in public places. And the last one: wear a mask. The County Health Director says even if commissioners get rid of the mask rule, unvaccinated people should keep the mask on.
"People that are unvaccinated that they should definitely continue to wear the mask, even if we don't have a mask mandate," If we continue to move our vaccination numbers in the right direction. If we're celebrating the holidays being mindful of all these things, I think we can really keep these numbers now."
Kids slow to get COVID shot
Another reason to feel optimistic about the pandemic is that kids 5-11 can now get vaccinated. That represents almost 900,000 people across our state. But right now, only 8 percent of the kids in that age group have gotten at least one dose.
And in Guilford County, the Health Department has given out 369 shots to kids 5-11. That's out of about 47,000 kids in that age group across the county. Vann says those numbers will go up since it's still early, but she says we can't just focus on kids. We need more adults to get vaccinated.
"I think we also need to consider our vaccination rates in our adult population as well because we haven't really reached a high number of adults being vaccinated as well," she said. "We can't really take both of them in silos because we all live, work and play together in our community, both children and adults. So we need to move these vaccinations forward to move out of the pandemic"
She says she has seen something encouraging though: Parents are getting their first dose with their kids.
"Being able to get vaccinated with their kids is something that is really convenient, so you can get it all done at one time," she said. "They may have been waiting for pediatric vaccines to become authorized. So they can do it with their children and show that type of support for their kids."
The other vaccine
Doctors say getting a flu vaccine can also help control the pandemic. COVID hospitalizations have leveled off in recent weeks. however, it's important to note they never got as low as they were during the summer, when numbers looked really good. Today Cone Health reported 55 people in their hospitals with coronavirus. Doctors fear we could see a *twindemic* with health care systems overrun with COVID and flu patients. The good news is that it's preventable.
"Being hospitalized for the flu, the same way as being hospitalized for COVID, is putting a huge burden on our hospital systems, filling out those beds, filling out the ICU beds," Vann said. "It's preventing the hospital systems from taking care, in an efficient way, of some of our other, more vulnerable members of our societies. So making sure these preventable illnesses are being taken care of with vaccinations."
Both Merck and Pfizer have submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration about pills they developed. The companies say each of their pills reduce COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations. Doctors say if these drugs get approved, it could be a key turning point in the pandemic.