It’s a long pandemic and COVID is still going strong. But along the way we at least learned a lot of things. Just as we’ve stopped obsessing over handwashing, there are many other ideas we once (or still) had about COVID that need updating. Here are some of the biggies.
A natural infection no longer offers complete protection
There was a time when if you had COVID you could rest assured that you were protected from getting it again at least a few months after you recover. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case with the strains currently circulating, including BA.4 and BA.5, both variants of the highly transmissible omicron that appear to be particularly well suited, even in people who have previously had an infection, causing infection recovered from COVID.
However, the situation is not as dire as some recent headlines suggest. An article claimed before it was correctedthat reinfections confer “no immunity,” which is incorrect. It also cited a report by Omicron infections that occur shortly after delta infectionssuggesting that you could always get infected with Omicron, which isn’t the same thing.
What we do Know that if you have recovered from a previous strain of the virus, you may still be able to contract another strain. The good news is that a previous infection is likely to at least still provide some Protection. A preprint suggests that you may get sick, even if you can still get sick pretty good protection against it difficult illness. And the even better news is that the vaccine is still effective against serious illnesses.
“Your mask protects me, my mask protects you” is outdated
Yeah, that was a cute idea back when people were still wearing their damn masks. It was also the limit of our understanding at the very beginning of the pandemic. We knew masks were pretty good at blocking droplets that were coming out our mouths and noses, but we didn’t know if they would do much to block droplets or even aerosols that might escape in. It turns out they do.
This is good news if you’re going to a crowded place where others aren’t wearing their masks. A well-fitting mask, especially if it’s made of quality filter material like an N95, will do a lot to protect you no matter what others do.
There’s nothing special about six feet
The ubiquitous six-foot social distancing rule was based on the respiratory droplet splash zone. Your breath or speech will probably just throw clots of saliva about a meter high. A cough or sneeze can go further, so it seemed like six feet should work pretty well as a rule of thumb.
But then we learned that the coronavirus is pretty good at blowing up. If you’re in a closed room with other people, there’s probably a virus in the air, even if you don’t get closer than two meters to anyone. Keeping your distance probably helps a little, but it’s not enough to make you feel safe.
The protection we can expect from vaccination has changed
This has changed and then changed again. When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved, the FDA only had data showing how well they prevented severe or symptomatic illness, not whether they even prevented people from transmitting the virus.
After a while it started looking like the vaccines did prevent people from becoming infected in the first place, even if they are asymptomatic. We have become accustomed to the vaccine making us essentially invincible; We were encouraged to remove our masks. But the virus had other ideas. Now it is very possible to get infected and even get sick even if you are fully vaccinated (and even with recommended booster shots).
The bottom line is that the vaccine doesn’t stop us from catching the virus, but it does does make us less likely to get life-threatening illnesses. So the vaccine and its boosters are worthwhile, but we shouldn’t be so eager to refrain from taking other protective measures.