As COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Oklahoma, OU Medicine’s Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Douglas Drevets fielded questions about herd immunity and changes in self-isolating guidelines Wednesday.
Oklahoma saw 918 new cases of the virus Wednesday, and an average of 750 new infections have been reported per day in the last seven days. The Oklahoma State Department of Health also reported 13 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday — the highest single-day increase in mortalities in Oklahoma since April.
In light of continued spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Drevets was asked if there’s a possibility that the general public might be capable of developing an immunity to the virus without the use of a vaccine.
“Most people's immune systems will be strong enough to fight off the virus without serious problems,” Drevets said. “The issues really are that when you're doing that you are going to be able to transmit the virus to other people for some period of time, and that's the critical thing. The other thing is, often you don't know what your response to the virus will be until you get it, so you can't plan to have (it). But more than likely, most people who are younger and healthier are going to do okay.”
Drevets said while it’s encouraging that most people’s bodies are equipped to handle the virus, COVID-19 is highly contagious and easily transmitted to people with underlying health conditions who would be severely impacted by infection, so continued caution is crucial.
Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for those self-isolating due to a positive COVID-19 test. The CDC no longer requires people with confirmed cases to test negative before returning to work.
Drevets said new research has shown most people will be clear from infection within 10 days of first experiencing symptoms, and other studies have shown the virus doesn’t live for more than 10 days inside a person, indicating that testing may not be needed beyond that point.
“This new science has led to the recognition that we can stop repeat-testing for most folks and allow people to come back to work or to stop self-isolating after around 10 days,” Drevets said, “provided they have no fever, and they're getting better.”
Drevets also reiterated the importance of masking, explaining that wearing a mask poses no danger to the wearer, even after long periods of use.
“Masks are not harmful to you, (and) they're not harmful to other people,” Drevets said. "Some masks — if they get wet, like from speaking — over time will break down, and so they lose their effectiveness. ... But in general, we're not harmed by wearing the same mask over and over, (but) they do need to be cleaned and they will lose their effectiveness over time.”
While Drevets said he hopes the recent mask mandates introduced by Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and other municipalities will contribute to slowing the spread of infection, he said the effectiveness of those laws will hang on Oklahomans’ diligence in following guidelines and wearing the right types of masks.
Until a vaccine is discovered, Drevets and Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU's chief COVID officer, have continued to maintain that mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing are key to personal safety.
All told, Drevets said Oklahomans should have been more concerned about COVID-19 prior to the recent spike in cases and must grow more aware as the summer wears on. He said Oklahomans are incredibly vulnerable to infection and should be worried about how the illness is affecting the state.
“Less than 5 percent of folks in Oklahoma have antibodies to this disease, meaning they have some degree of immunity,” Drevets said. “That means more than 95 percent of folks in the state are completely susceptible to this infection. And so it's here, and we need to be concerned about it enough to act on it right now.”