Dr. Moshe Dreyfuss | Special to JT
So, how’s it going? Feeling good? No coronavirus? Not bothering with masks and isolation? All done with the vaccinations?
Maybe it’s time to review the events of the last two plus years.
Viruses don’t just come once and leave. They come in waves, like the ocean on the beach. Each coronavirus wave is a new contagious variant that affects people, causing illness and death.
The B.A.5 variant seems to be milder than the original COVID, with not as many deaths, but it is quite infective. Data released by the Maryland Department of Health on July 24 showed the five zip codes with the highest number of weekly cases at that time: 137 cases in 21215 (Arlington, Baltimore/Baltimore City); 132 cases in 20904 (Silver Spring/White Oak, Montgomery County); 126 cases in 20906 (Silver Spring/Aspen Hill, Montgomery County); and 125 cases in 20902 (Silver Spring/Wheaton-Glenmont, Montgomery County). The zip code in Baltimore City at the top of that list accounted for 16.8% of the city’s total coronavirus cases at that time.
As of August 19, 2022, however, the total number of cases in each of these zip codes has exploded: 12,471 cases in 21215 (Arlington, Baltimore/Baltimore City); 13,386 cases in 20904 (Silver Spring/White Oak, Montgomery County); 16,064 cases in 20906 (Silver Spring/Aspen Hill, Montgomery County); and 12,890 cases in 20902 (Silver Spring/Wheaton-Glenmont, Montgomery County).
I bring these figures up for one particular reason. In these zip codes, which are heavily populated by members of the Orthodox Jewish community, 20 people out of 100 have reported illness to the Maryland Department of health. As of August 19, 318 new cases were reported in the zip code 21215 alone — the second highest number of cases of the entire state. And do not forget that this data does not include non-reported cases, such as those where symptoms were mild enough to ignore the illness. In fact, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, approximately 80% of those who catch the COVID are asymptomatic.
“Parents have seen many of their children and their children’s friends get COVID and do fine, adding to a belief that this isn’t nearly as dangerous as they were led to believe,” writes Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and the associate dean for research mentoring at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “This perception, when it comes to their children, isn’t necessarily wrong. Older people continue to be at the highest risk of death from COVID. Arguing that they needed to get vaccinated, and more, to save their lives made sense. Saying that childhood deaths from COVID are somewhat more common than influenza may be true, but too many parents don’t think influenza is a problem either. Many do not vaccinate their children against that, let alone mask and isolate them.”
Besides the fact that children who are vaccinated have a lower chance of getting sick at all, Dr. Carroll points out that if they do get sick they will have a lower chance of getting severely ill, developing Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or being hospitalized. They probably have a lower chance of being affected by Long Covid — an outcome are far more common in children than death — as well. Finally, getting more people immunized will lower the overall prevalence of COVID in the community and benefit everyone.
The obvious solution for limiting the spread and severity of COVID is to get vaccinated; yet despite our abilities to fight illness, that agency does not seem to be dampening the increase in COVID in our communities, suggesting that insufficient precautions are presently being undertaken to prevent the spread. Maybe it’s exhaustion from the pandemic or the isolation; maybe it is a product of the misinformation that abounds on the internet; but something is wrong if the number of COVID cases in the Orthodox Jewish communities are among the highest in the state of Maryland.
But wait! There are anti-vaxxers among us. They are sick and tired of masks and being told to be safe. The result of laxness? Confirmed cases of polio have just been reported in the United States and Israel this last month. According to public health officials, Rockland County, New York (which has a large Orthodox Jewish population) has a 60% child vaccination rate for this wholly preventable disease, compared with the 80% vaccination rate statewide. Measles is also increasing in many anti-vaxxer communities. Monkeypox, which is similar to chickenpox, is spreading as well.
For 20% of the population in our neighborhoods to have COVID is embarrassingly high. Prevention is easy and precaution is still required. It doesn’t matter if you are asymptomatic. It doesn’t matter your political outlook. Viruses are apolitical. There are others who are quite susceptible to illness and as an asymptomatic spreader, you could be responsible for causing the illness or death of another person. So wear that mask. Get vaccinated, and get all your vaccinations: polio, pneumonia, shingles, monkeypox, and COVID.
Halachically, we are responsible for the well being and health of our community. If you do get sick, get tested and isolate until the virus cannot be detected in you. Keep our community safe.
A retired public health official, Dr. Moshe Dreyfuss worked in microbiology for the federal government and published in scientific journals for over 35 years. He currently teaches microbiology at Baltimore City Community College.