Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19
By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since the first case of COVID-19 in Minnesota was identified on March 6, 2020, and in Olmsted County on March 11, 2020. We have dealt with loneliness, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, depression, and anger over the past year. There are questions that still surround COVID-19. Sure, they have changed over the last year; but there are still questions. In this month’s article, I will answer some of the questions I have heard recently in hopes of providing the facts about what is happening now with COVID-19. Please note that the information included in this article is current on April 7, 2021. As always, there are updates occurring on a regular basis. Click here to read this month’s article about COVID-19.
It seems like everyone is getting vaccinated. Is COVID-19 still a problem?
Yes. COVID-19 continues to be a health concern in the United States and Minnesota even with vaccinations being available. We have seen an increase in cases in Minnesota recently. The good news is that for Olmsted County residents 16 years and older, 43% have completed the vaccine series and 59% have had at least one dose. Even though that is great, it means that there are still 57% who have yet to complete the series. We still need to be cautious and follow the guidelines set forth by the Minnesota Department of Health and Olmsted County Public Health.
I have heard talk about variants. What is a variant?
When a virus makes copies of itself, it sometimes changes a little bit, which is normal for a virus. These changes are called mutations. A virus with one or more new mutations is referred to as a variant of the original virus. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic. There are currently five Variants of Concern in the United States with B 1.1.7. being predominant. And yes, B 1.1.7. is in Minnesota.
Is it true that I only need to stay three feet away from others?
The CDC has advised at least 3 feet of distance between students at elementary, middle, and high schools only, with some exceptions. At all other times, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces. This holds true for all worship services and activities at Bethel.
Are the vaccines really safe? I heard it will change my DNA.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.
If I am vaccinated, do I still need to stay six feet away from people and wear a mask at church?
Yes. We welcome you at church but ask that you continue to follow the current guidelines: Stay home if sick, wear a mask correctly while in the church, use the hand sanitizer stations or wash your hands when you enter the church, and always maintain six feet of distance from other households. It may take time for everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccination to get one. Also, while the vaccine may prevent you from getting sick, it is unknown at this time if you can still carry and transmit the virus to others after vaccination.
Can I visit my family when I am fully vaccinated?
You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks following your second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or following the single dose of the J&J vaccine.
You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.
I am ready to get the vaccine. How can I go about doing that?
All Minnesotans who have not yet received a vaccine should sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector. The Connector helps Minnesotans find out when, where, and how to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Once registered, you are entered into the random selection process for the state’s Community Vaccination Program site in Rochester.
Use the Vaccine Locator Map to find vaccine providers in our area. Many vaccine providers may allow you to fill out a form online so you can be contacted about openings for vaccine administration.
Your primary health care provider or local pharmacy may reach out to you directly to schedule an appointment.
Check the Olmsted County Public Health Vaccine web page to determine if there are any vaccine clinics for which you can sign up: olmstedcounty.gov/covid-vaccine
I missed my appointment for the second dose of the vaccine. What should I do?
The vaccine works best after two doses. If someone only gets one dose, they may not be as well protected against COVID-19. The second dose boosts your immunity to COVID-19 and will help even if it is a long time between shots. Even if it is beyond the recommended amount of time (21 or 28 days), go get your second dose as soon as you can. You will not have to start over. Contact the provider where you received your first dose of the vaccine to schedule an appointment. (Please note that you need only one dose of the J&J vaccine.)
When can my children get vaccinated?
At this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine that has been studied and authorized for use by people ages 16 and 17. Other vaccine manufacturers are studying their vaccines in younger age groups but have not yet received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Watch for information from the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and the Olmsted County Health Department about when a vaccine is approved for children.
I am planning to attend a concert. Is it safe to attend?
The Minnesota Department of Health advises to avoid going to a crowded bar, restaurant, party, or concert either indoors or outdoors, where you cannot keep at least 6 feet from others. If you do attend a concert or other event, be sure to wear a mask, maintain physical distance from others not in your household, and bring your hand sanitizer to use as needed throughout the event. If you are feeling uneasy about attending, stay home.
I am invited to a celebration for my niece’s graduation. Is it safe to go?
The Minnesota Department of Health advises against going to indoor gatherings with people from many different households. If you are feeling uneasy about attending, stay home. If you do gather with people from other households, remember to:
Wear a mask, whether at indoor or outdoor gatherings.
Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
Gather in an area with good ventilation. Open windows and doors, if possible.
Cover coughs and sneezes, and wash or sanitize your hands often.
Do I have to wear a mask when I am outside?
It depends. If you are going for a walk by yourself, you do not need to wear a mask. If you gather with people from other households, you should wear a mask. If you can’t maintain six feet of distance from others, you should wear a mask. If you are gathering with others who have been fully vaccinated and you also are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask.
Is it safe to eat in a restaurant?
The lowest risk for restaurant dining is to get food for carry-out, eating outdoors increases the risk, and eating inside a restaurant carries the highest risk for transmission of COVID-19. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat inside a restaurant. After all, restaurants in Minnesota are now open at 75% capacity and we want to patronize our small business owners. You can do some things to decrease your risk when dining at a restaurant:
Ensure there are six feet between tables in the restaurant.
Check to be sure that all employees are wearing masks. If not, leave and consider notifying the manager or owner.
Wear your mask at all times except when you are actively eating or drinking and encourage others in your group to do so too.
Bring hand sanitizer with you to use before and after you touch objects or surfaces.
Spend as little time as possible indoors as possible—leave promptly after finishing your meal.
If you feel uncomfortable eating inside a restaurant, get a to-go order.
Can I travel to California? How about Italy?
In early April 2021, the CDC published new guidelines for travel. Their guidelines were based on the fact that fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. Within the United States, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to get tested before or after travel unless their destination requires it. Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine. All other recommendations for traveling safely still apply: Wear a mask over your nose and mouth, stay six feet from others and avoid crowds, and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, the CDC advises getting tested one to three days before travel, get tested three to five days after travel, self-quarantine for seven days, self-monitor for symptoms, wear a mask and follow all other safety recommendations.
Planning travel to a foreign country is much more complicated.
All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.
Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
Get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before you travel. Keep a copy of your test results with you during travel in case you are asked for them. Check and follow destination testing requirements—they may require specific types of tests.
Don’t travel if you test positive. Delay your travel if you are waiting for test results.
Get tested 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for 7 days after travel. Even if you test negative, stay home and self-quarantine for the full 7 days. If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 10 days after travel.
Get fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Wait 2 weeks after getting your second vaccine dose to travel.
For more information, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/testing-air-travel.html
Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally always check on the requirements for the mode of transportation you are using (plane, train, bus…). Also, check the requirements for the location you are visiting. A friend of mine went to visit family in Taiwan. Upon arrival, she was taken to a hotel where she was required to quarantine for 15 days. She was not allowed to leave her room. Meals were delivered to her in her room. Although she knew this would be required, it was still very challenging. Be prepared before you go!
I have friends and family who don’t believe that COVID-19 is real. Is there anything I can do to help them understand?
I do have a family member who doesn’t believe that COVID-19 is real — “It’s just the flu”. This person refuses to get vaccinated — “Don’t you remember the Swine Flu vaccine?” “I don’t want my DNA messed with.” I now realize that there is no way to change his mind, so I don’t engage in conversations about COVID with him. Is there anything that we can do? First, take the time to understand where this person is coming from. Then you may let them know what your beliefs are and why you have them. You may also find something that you do agree on. For example, that wearing a mask is irritating or talking about how tired you are of watching TV. Then you can try to provide some facts—nearly 560,000 people in the United States have died from COVID or COVID-related complications; the percentage of people who have completed the vaccination series; the evidence that supports attendance at large group gatherings have resulted in multiple COVID cases. Personally, this has not worked for me. It just seems to cause more conflict. I have now decided to say, “I love you. I want you to be safe and protect yourself from COVID. I do not want to lose you. Please take care of yourself.” And then I say a prayer for him.
When can we go back to normal?
Ahh…a good question for which there is not a good answer. I don’t know that we will ever go back to the normal we once knew. I don’t know how long we will need to wear masks or if we will need to continue to quarantine if we have symptoms of COVID-19. Restrictions are being lifted, which brings hope. I am not sure it will ever be normal for the person who hasn’t worked in over a year or for the family whose grandma died who were not able to say goodbye in person or for the individual suffering from depression and anxiety related to the pandemic. We all need to care for one another, follow the guidelines from the experts, and pray for a day when we can give a real hug to someone at church.
(All information in this article is from the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and Olmsted County Public Health. Visit their websites for additional information.)