Still, that doesn’t mean big events should be canceled. On the contrary, the Gridiron Club outbreak shows what life with covid-19 looks like.
It should be clear by now that any time we interact with other people indoors and without a mask, there is a risk of transmission of covid-19. This risk decreases if there are lower levels of infection in the surrounding community and if the space is well ventilated. Conversely, the more people we engage with, the more likely it is that one of them carries the virus and that we could also contract it.
Event organizers need to decide what level of risk they can tolerate and therefore what precautions they need to put in place. The Gridiron event required proof of vaccination, an important guarantee. (A number of Post colleagues are members of the Gridiron Club and attended the event.) This is because those vaccinated are almost three times less likely to be infected compared to those who are not vaccinated.
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Requiring rapid same-day test proof is another level of protection that would further reduce risk. The upcoming White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which traditionally has more than 2,000 attendees, would have will request both the vaccination and the test on the same day.
I think it’s great if hosts want to take these precautions, especially if they know there are many vulnerable people who wouldn’t attend the event without them.
I also think it is acceptable for event organizers to choose not to take precautions and instead it is up to individuals to decide what risk is acceptable for their own medical situation. Many people will decide that because they are vaccinated and fortified, they are extremely unlikely to become seriously ill and accept the increased possibility of infection.
Others might just as reasonably decide that, given the many unknowns around the long covid, they will only attend a work party or wedding if they can wear an N95 or equivalent mask all the time. If they do this and don’t remove the mask to eat or drink, they can reduce their risk of contracting the coronavirus, even if they are around people who are unmasked, untested, or whose vaccination status is unknown. (Of course, they could also choose not to attend the event at all.)
There are those who would say it’s irresponsible to throw parties that could turn into superspreader events. This was true before vaccines became widely available, but it is no longer realistic. We need to use a different paradigm, based on individuals thinking about their own risks and the risks they pose to others.
Your questions about covid-19, answered by Dr. Wen
Here’s what it would look like: If you’ve chosen to attend a large indoor gathering or are engaged in high-risk activities such as frequenting crowded bars, get tested before visiting a nursing home or dining with an immunocompromised parent. If you have a newborn or live with a particularly vulnerable person, ask others to get tested before coming to see you. To be on the safe side, ask them to reduce risky activities for three days, then test just before the visit.
If you’re older or have medical conditions that make you more likely to be hospitalized from coronavirus, have a plan for what happens if you catch covid-19. Are you eligible for monoclonal antibodies and antiviral pills such as Paxlovid? Where can you access these treatments, including after hours and on weekends?
At this point in the pandemic, we have to accept that infections will continue to occur. During Omicron’s winter surge, nearly half of Americans contracted the coronavirus. The new omicron sub-variant, BA.2, is even more contagious than the original. The price to pay to avoid infection with the coronavirus is extremely high. Some Americans might choose to continue paying that price, but I suspect most will not.
Accepting that coronavirus infections are part of our lives doesn’t mean we give up. Rather, it means acknowledging that we finally have the tools to eliminate most of the terrifying consequences of the coronavirus. Almost all of us will contract covid-19. Let’s get ready when we do and get on with our lives while we wait.