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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Preparing for Another Pandemic Summer

May 14, 2021 08:23AM ● By Editor
Photo: Cook County MN

By Grace Grinager, Public Health Supervisor from Cook County Public Health and Human Services - May 14, 2021

As the days grow longer, our attention naturally shifts to the summer months ahead. We’re in a much better place with COVID-19 than last year at this time. Locally, we’ve got easy access to vaccines that work very well at preventing us from becoming infected with COVID-19, getting sick and passing the virus to others. Just last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced plans to further lift the remaining restrictions on businesses. Starting at the end of the month, all restrictions on capacity and distancing for businesses and events will end.  Once 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older are vaccinated (or by July 1, whichever comes sooner), Walz will end the mask mandate.

We have much to be hopeful about and grateful for. Cook County’s vaccination rate continues to be the highest in the state. Each day that passes without a COVID-19 related death in our community is a blessing. The volume of new cases of COVID-19 remains managable for both our public health and local healthcare system. Our schools, businesses and local organizations have shown incredible leadership and creativity as we’ve all adapated to life with COVID. We should feel proud for changing our habits and following the sometimes-challenging public health advice during the pandemic. The sacrifices we’ve made have helped our friends, family and neighbors stay safe and healthy.

In so many ways, it feels like we’re moving toward a place where we can put our COVID year behind us and go back to the world we knew pre-2020. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. Even if we all feel ready to be done with the pandemic, we’ll still be living with COVID-19 spreading in the world. I’m hopeful that as a community we can continue to use public health best practices to guide our path forward. The question remains, with a relatively high vaccination rate and changes to Walz’s orders, what does public health advice looks like as we head into summer?

We’ll still need to be careful this summer

Summer is a time of travel. Not only do we welcome visitors from across the country to Cook County, but we ourselves also travel widely during the summer. While Cook County has a relatively high vaccination rate, the rate across the state and country is significantly lower. We can’t get to “community immunity” or “herd immunity” on our own. Places with lower vaccination rates are likely to continue to see more significant community spread of COVID-19 during the summer months. We need to expect that COVID-19 will continue to spread actively both in our community and in the places we travel.

Public spaces and masks 

In indoor public spaces, such as many of our local businesses, we won’t know people’s vaccination status. We won’t know who is at greatest risk for severe COVID-19. Additionally, a large number of our youngest community members still will not be eligible for vaccination this summer. This is why public health will continue to recommend that everyone wear a mask and wash their hands before and after visiting indoor businesses and other organizations in the community, even after the governor lifts the mask mandate. These simple acts will continue to protect those around us and will limit the number of people who are either sick with COVID-19 or in quarantine. I understand that it can feel frustrating to continue to wear a mask if you are fully vaccinated. Just remember, this isn’t forever. It is something we will continue to do until we have a greater number of people vaccinated.

Vaccination remains our most powerful tool to limit the spread of COVID-19

Cook County Public Health, along with all our healthcare partners throughout the community are committed to making vaccination as accessible to community members as possible. To do this, we have evening and weekend options at locations throughout our county. See cookcountycovid19.org for details, or call 218-877-8273 for an appointment. We are also committed to giving people evidence-based information about the vaccines so that they can make informed decisions.  

Even as we continue to recommend mask use in indoor public spaces for everyone, much of the public health advice is now tiered based on a person’s vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people can start safely doing many things they stopped doing because of the pandemic. There is no need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart from other fully vaccinated people, even if you are getting together indoors.  The same is true if you are getting together indoors with one household of unvaccinated people who are at low risk from severe illness due to COVID-19. Fully vaccinated people can also travel within the U.S. without testing or quarantine before or after travel. Finally, if a fully vaccinated person is exposed to someone who is infected with COVID-19, they do not need to quarantine unless they begin to feel sick (at which point point we’d recommend testing and staying home). This is a huge benefit! While quarantine is an important public health tool to contain the spread of this virus, it is hard to stay home and miss work, school and sports due to exposure to COVID-19.  

Continuing to answer the call from public health

Finally, we continue to call people who test positive for COVID-19 and the people they have been in close contact with while they were contagious. As our vaccination rate has risen, these calls have become more difficult for public health staff. If you receive a call from local public health, please continue to answer our calls and treat our staff with respect. We take your privacy seriously and our sole purpose in making these calls is to provide you with appropriate recommendations about staying home and testing. We are happy to help connect you with resources to meet your basic needs so that you can stay home if you are sick, or if you are unvaccinated and have been exposed to a person who was contagious with COVID-19.  

We are all certainly tired of living with COVID-19 for more than a year, but I am so proud of how our community’s hard work and sacrifice have put us in a relatively good position as we move into another pandemic summer. Please remember that our role in the public health department is to provide you with information and access to support as we navigate this next phase of COVID together. Whether it is access to vaccination, information on how to tailor your business preparedness plan to this new landscape, or education about the ever-evolving public health recommendations, our role continues to be one of service to the community.

Contact us via email at [email protected] or follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS  or on Instagram @Cook_County_PHHS to learn more about our work in supporting the health, safety and wellbeing of Cook County. 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

 

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