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Infectious disease expert on how things have changed since COVID started two years ago

Dr. Aileen Marty fiu.jpg
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Sundial spoke with Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert and member of the Miami-Dade coronavirus task force, about living through the pandemic today.

On this Thursday, March 17, edition of Sundial:

Living through the pandemic today

How are you living your life at this stage of the pandemic? The answer is different for everyone. Many people have ditched their masks after the omicron variant. Malls, sporting events and concerts are back to capacity.

The days of reporting daily cases and hospitalizations are long over, but the pandemic is not gone. COVID is still infecting thousands of people in the U.S. every day. Still, the number being reported are trending downwards.

Florida reported about 1,200 cases and 191 deaths Wednesday.

COVID still exists, despite people lifting pandemic restrictions in their own lives, and workplaces and agencies doing the same.

WLRN's Sundial spoke with Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University and member of the Miami-Dade County coronavirus task force. She talked about living through the pandemic at this stage and answered listeners’ questions.

This excerpt of the conversation has been edited for clarity.

On the COVID numbers trending downward

In Florida, over the last 14 days, we've had a 50% reduction in cases. Our hospitals are breathing easy. We do, still, unfortunately, do have individuals severely ill with COVID in our hospitals, but a reduced number is much more manageable. It's not currently what I would consider a public health emergency in our area. That said, there are some worrisome things on the horizon.

The most important thing is to get that person [who tested positive] to not be sharing the virus with others, to at least hopefully stay home while they are likely to be transmitting, and if not to please wear a mask when they are around others, because we really do need to keep the numbers as low as possible so that we don't end up with another high level of a public health emergency.

On new COVID variants

One of the things that we're seeing right now in our area, right here in South Florida, is that the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in our wastewater is again increasing by hundreds of percents. So while our case numbers have been going down just recently, our wastewater amounts are going up and those always go up about a couple of weeks before we start seeing a rise in cases.

In many countries in Europe, the cases are again rising. BA.2, which is a sub-variant of omicron, is taking over in many countries, and in the United States it's increasing. In fact, in our wastewater only about 49% of our wastewater is now BA.2, and that's data from two days ago. And that's a huge increase from just a week ago.

As crazy transmissible as omicron infections were, BA.2 is more transmissible. And in terms of vaccine effectiveness, it's very comparable. They both have reduced efficacy from the vaccine but it’s not any worse.

On masking in public

If you're in a well-ventilated outdoor space with people you know are vaccinated, you don't need a mask, you're fine. But if you're going to be in an indoor space with people you don't know, that's crowded and especially if you have underlying conditions — and even more, especially if you're not vaccinated and boosted — for your own safety, you should be wearing a mask.

We are such wonderful social creatures. But then again, we're very influenced by peer pressure. It's really important that we not insist on either behavior, when it comes to masking, because you're not that individual. You don't need to know why, but you need to recognize that that individual may have an immunocompromised compromising condition, may have someone at home that they're trying to protect, or they may actually have recently had [COVID] and they're trying to protect you. So don't force other people to remove their masks because people have their reasons.

On COVID vaccines

We're not quite where we need to be to have the ideal situation here. We're certainly have done much worse than many countries. Spain and Portugal, for example, are far better than we are in terms of their percent of fully vaccinated, as well as vaccinated and boosted.

We do have somewhere around 65% of the eligible people vaccinated, and that's very helpful. That does reduce it. And then the boosting that a significant chunk of people have gotten helps as well. You have to understand these viruses can get past a lot of our protection but if you have some protection, then the odds of having severe disease is reduced dramatically.

We would like everyone over the age of 12 to be boosted. The third dose makes a huge difference.

In the 5 to 11 group, the vaccine is helpful for them right now.

The data released with two doses of Pfizer vaccine for the six months to under five age group is really not enough protection. It's partly because they selected such a low dose of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group. They did that because they didn't want to see any side effects, and they accomplished the safety factor, the fact of not seeing any significant side effects. But they didn't accomplish a sufficiently high level of protection. So that's why they're in the middle of trying to get a third dose in those individuals if you use the Pfizer vaccine.

But within the next couple of days, we're going to get more results because Moderna has already completed their study on children six months to just under five years old, and they used a much higher dose. And I'm pretty confident based on the preliminary information that I received, that we're going to see much better efficacy.


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Leslie Ovalle produces the morning newscasts that air during Morning Edition. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling. Her interests include immigration, technology and the environment.