After a brief period of lower COVID-19 cases being present in Huntington, the county is now seeing a spike in the new Delta variant of the virus - and Huntington’s Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Pflieger has shared concern over the matter.
According to Pflieger, the Delta variant of the virus is more contagious than other strands of coronavirus because the particular variant binds to nasal passages easier - meaning it can more easily enter the body.
“You don’t need to experience as much virus to get infected,” Plieger explained.
Variations and mutations occur in viruses like these because of how Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) viruses replicate.
“An RNA virus mutates because it’s replicating so many times - and the RNA code is just prone to making mistakes,” Pflieger said. “That’s where mutations happen.”
Other viruses, such as the flu virus, also mutate on a regular basis. The difference is that, unlike the flu virus, coronavirus isn’t a seasonal virus.
“It (coronavirus) can live more in the background and in the community throughout any time, which is what we’re seeing right now,” Pflieger said.
According to Pflieger, Huntington County is, unfortunately, ahead of many surrounding Indiana counties when it comes to experiencing the spike in Delta cases. Pflieger says that, because there are few counties in Indiana experiencing this high level of spread, that Huntington is having to look to other states, such as Missouri, Florida and other states in the south to make predictions for what might happen in Huntington. And the outlook can be concerning.
“In some of those counties down south, it’s been really concerning, because their hospital systems have been completely full and they’re having to divert people to other counties and are losing space in hospitals,” Pflieger said. “And that’s what we don’t want.”
Currently, Huntington is in the “Orange” advisory level - which signifies how significant the spread of COVID-19 is occuring within the community. Pflieger says that case numbers shot up “really fast” and that there is also a concern about reaching the “red” level advisory - which never occurred during the first wave.
With this surge in cases occurring at the same time as Huntington County Community School Corporation (HCCSC) is going back to school, Pflieger says that HCCSC and the health department are working together to ensure that kids are staying healhty.
“We have looked together to try to find a way to make school happen - but (also) be as understanding that kids are low risk, but not no risk,” Pflieger said.
“And we’re also trying to allow for some normality, but want to keep kids safe and healthy. We’re trying to do all of these things all at the same exact time, which is very difficult.”
Pflieger says that there is a “ripple effect” that occurs when students get sick. If kids get sick, they have to stay home. If they have to stay home, that often means that their parents have to stay home with them. Or, their parents also get sick, and then have to stay home from work.
Should the spread of the virus continue to rise, there is a chance that “more drastic steps” would have to be implemented in order to control how the spread occurs within the school system.
Pflieger also reminds the community that there are simple ways to mitigate the spread of coronavirus - which include wearing masks and getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Everybody has to hold the risk of getting the vaccine versus of getting COVID. And the risk of getting COVID is being ignored, or downplayed, in our society - or people feel invincible to it,” Pflieger said. “From my experience as a physician, and from watching people and hearing about symptoms afterwards, and going through this whole process, the risk of getting COVID is more than getting the vaccine. I know everyone has a different risk calculator, but everything that I have seen from these vaccines is that it’s safer than getting COVID.”
Pflieger also notes that it is important to gain information from reliable sources when making decisions about whether or not to get a vaccine.
“The goal of medical literature is to prove that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Pflieger said. “However, it has become a culture war, which is really sad because this is a virus. It’s not a politician, it’s a virus that has zero brain.
We have been doing vaccinations for 150 years and it is the number one reason that life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last 100 years.”
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point,” Pflieger said.
Pflieger says that masks are “an effective tool to decrease the spread of COVID” and that they are part of a strategy to protect the community.
“Masking indoors is a very responsible, loving thing to do,” Pflieger said. “It’s a totally reasonable, low-risk thing to do. We’re going to continue to communicate that masking is one of those things that you can do to help your community.”
One thing that Pflieger says that has become a battle is dealing with disinformation that tends to spread via social media and that people need to listen to sources that they should hear, rather than just what they want to hear.
“I tell people, I am listening to hours and hours and hours of lectures and communication about COVID,” Pflieger said. “I’m not just putting out information left and right without thinking through it, I’m being very careful about this information. I think as a community we need to really watch ourselves and be thoughtful. We need to think about what our motivation is- and our motivation should be to not get our neighbors sick.”
For additional information regarding the spread of COVID-19, as well as testing information, vaccination availability and safety or other public resources, visit ourshot.in.gov.