colin greene

Dr. Colin Greene, Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District's interim director

It’s a tempting thought, isn’t it? With vaccination rates rising, more people are going out sans masks to gather with friends and family, eat in restaurants and enjoy a public life resembling pre-pandemic normalcy. It can sometimes seem as though we have crossed the finish line of the COVID-19 marathon.

However, Dr. Colin Greene, interim director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, explained we are still a long way from the checkered flag. “It’s not over,” he noted.

“Remember that a pandemic is a worldwide event, so it would have to be substantially over worldwide for the pandemic to be declared over — and that will probably be for the WHO [World Health Organization] to call,” Greene said. “If you look at other parts of the world, unfortunately this pandemic is still going strong. … The rest of the world is having a harder time getting [vaccines].”

So with COVID-19 continuing to spread like wildfire throughout parts of India and Brazil, Greene explained, it is unlikely that the WHO will call an end to the pandemic anytime soon.

“That said, the shorter-term question might be: When will the state of emergency be over here in Virginia and here in the United States?”

Greene hasn’t heard of specific criteria for ending the state of emergency, but he suggested that a sustained period of either no cases or very few new cases of COVID-19, with a significant proportion of the population either vaccinated or naturally immune, could be enough to lift the emergency declaration.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden set the goal of getting at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of Americans by July 4. In a telepress briefing late last week, Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s state vaccine coordinator, said he thinks the state “will definitely get to that goal.”

Only five percent of Virginia’s population — 320,000 more adults — would need to get the vaccine between now and July 4, or about 8,000 per day to reach the President’s goal, Avula said. “We have been tracking a good bit better than that. Over the last week, [we administered] around 20,000 — a little over that — per day for first doses. So making good progress.”

In Rappahannock County, one in two residents have received at least one dose and more than two in five are fully vaccinated. Nearly 47 percent of all residents in the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, which serves the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock, have received at least one dose. 

If the pandemic’s not over, can I trust the CDC’s guidelines?

Unequivocally, Dr. Colin Greene says yes.

“The CDC’s guidelines are based on two statements for which there is substantial evidence,” he said. “Number one is it’s rare to pass the disease person-to-person outdoors. Number two is that it is extremely rare — extraordinarily rare — for two vaccinated people to pass the disease amongst one another. And those two facts form the basis of the change, which is if you’re outdoors and it’s rare to pass the disease outdoors, you don’t need to wear a mask outdoors. And if it’s very rare to pass the disease between vaccinated people you don’t need to wear a mask if you’ve been vaccinated.”

The exceptions, Greene noted, are for those who work among very high-risk people, such as patients in hospital wards or nursing homes, where even a very small risk is “still more than you’re willing to take;” and for people who work among large populations of unvaccinated people, such as schoolchildren.

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