COVID is still out there, so protect yourself with the vaccine

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Fewer people are getting COVID-19 in York County, which is great. Even better, fewer people are dying from the virus.

With spring in the air and the federal government winding down the pandemic state of emergency in preparation for declaring its end in May, it's easy to think that COVID is over.

Unfortunately, it's not.

The county on Wednesday reported 237 cases and one death over the previous week to state authorities, bringing its pandemic totals to 148,323 and 1,672, respectively.

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Hospitalizations also remained steady, with 24 hospitalized across the county. The number of patients in the ICU increased from three to eight over the past week, while one was on a ventilator. The hospitalizations are on par with the numbers the county saw last March, as the initial omicron wave was receding.

Those hospitalized patients likely have something in common. Dr. John Goldman, UPMC infectious disease specialist, said earlier this month that all the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at UPMC facilities in central Pennsylvania were unvaccinated.

"We strongly urge adults and children to get their flu shots and their COVID booster. Influenza and COVID vaccinations protect us from severe disease, hospitalization and death," Goldman said. "We still recommend wearing masks in high-risk settings or if you yourself are at higher risk.”

And there's the rub.

Only 59% of the residents of York County have even gotten the initial two-shot vaccination for COVID-19, according to the state. Less than 15% have received the most recent bivalent booster that protects against the most recent variants.

As for masks, well, just look around. Masks are totally out of style in York County now and have been for a year or more. A trip to any store, office, church or school will confirm that.

Licensed vocational nurse, Denise Saldana, left, vaccinates Pri DeSilva, Associate Director of Individual and Corporate Giving, with a fourth Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster at the Dr. Kenneth Williams Health Center in Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.  (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Yes, fewer people are getting sick, thanks to the precautions that many of us have taken by getting vaccinated. People who do get COVID-19 are less likely to be hospitalized or die because the medical community has learned a lot in the past three years about treating this brand-new virus.

But that doesn't mean we can completely let down our guard.

Yes, maybe you've had COVID and recovered, maybe you even had the virus and didn't show any symptoms at all.

But every infection increases the odds of long COVID, which brings a higher risk of heart disease, lung problems and death, according to a study reported by CNN.

The study, published in JAMA Health Forum earlier this month, showed that people with long COVID, defined as having ongoing symptoms more than four weeks after the initial COVID infection, were more than twice as likely to die during the 12-month study as those who had not had COVID. They were also more likely to have heart arrhythmias, stroke, heart failure and coronary artery disease as well as COPD and severe asthma.

COVID-19 is still being readily transmitted throughout the community, and there's an easy way to lessen your chances of being hospitalized or even dying from the virus.

Get the vaccine. Get the booster. Do it now, while the emergency declaration is still in effect and the vaccine is still free and readily available.