OP-ED: Here’s How We Can End COVID-19 in 2021

Todd Shamash
Capital BlueCross
In this Jan. 24, 2021, file photo, Dr. John Corman, the chief clinical officer for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, holds a sign that reads "Need Vaccine" to signal workers to bring him more doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 as he works at a one-day vaccination clinic set up in an facility in Seattle. An increasing number of COVID-19 vaccination sites around the U.S. are canceling appointments because of vaccine shortages in a rollout so rife with confusion and unexplained bottlenecks. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

After enduring the tragic impacts of a devastating pandemic for nearly a year, we finally see a path forward that could largely eliminate COVID-19 from our lives.

To do that, however, we need the collective resolve to stay on that path. That means continuing safe practices like mask wearing and social distancing — and it means working to ensure the vast majority of Pennsylvanians are vaccinated against this deadly virus.

To be clear, the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine is an individual one, but I would hope each person’s decision is guided by the knowledge that the vaccines are safe and effective and a concern for the health and well-being of our family, friends and communities. Getting vaccinated is important to keeping our population healthy and preventing further spread of COVID-19. Also, by decreasing the number of infections through vaccination, we decrease the risk of the virus becoming resistant to the vaccine.

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Seeing the selfless courage and compassion of frontline health care workers during this pandemic has been inspiring, and it should motivate the rest of us to do our part to stop the spread. Getting vaccinated is critical to that effort.

It’s also critical that we don’t let the availability of COVID-19 vaccines make us complacent about other common-sense health and safety practices that we know work: wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing our hands, and limiting large gatherings.

Some of these practices were cast as divisive social and political issues when they never really should have been. The scientific evidence around wearing masks, for instance, is clear: Masks limit the spread of droplets that can carry COVID-19 and other viruses from person to person.

Here’s another reason to mask up: There is growing evidence that masks are helping to curb the spread of the flu this season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits this season’s decline in flu cases at least in part to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health notes flu activity across the commonwealth has been low this season compared to last season.

Capital BlueCross has been committed to doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help those dealing with the virus and its ripple effects on businesses, schools and communities.

Todd Shamash, president and CEO of Capital BlueCross.

We took aggressive steps to increase access to health care and telemedicine, protect our employees, and provide support to those most vulnerable. We do this because we have a vested interest in the health and well-being of the communities we serve, which also are the communities our employees call home. We want these communities, and you, to be safe and healthy.

We are working hard to do our part to make a positive difference in this challenging time, and we ask that you do the same. So please:

  • Wear a mask — if not out of concern for yourself, then to protect those you care about.
  • Socially distance whenever possible and limit large gatherings.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available to you.
  • Get a flu shot too, so we can avoid the risk of a dual threat to public health.

An end to this pandemic is in sight, but all of us — individuals, schools, businesses, community and civic leaders — need to work together to get there. If we all follow safe, healthy practices that we know work, we can put COVID-19 behind us for good.

— Todd Shamash is president and CEO of Capital BlueCross, a leading Pennsylvania health insurer serving a 21-county region in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.