Mixed reaction over how to handle the future as doctors say COVID is here to stay

With so many people vaccinated, one UCSF doctor says we need to "return to normal as quickly as we can," including in schools.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Doctors weigh in on what future of living with COVID looks like
As we grapple with what living alongside COVID will look like in the future, doctors have different takes on what health guidelines should looks like.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The cycle of removing and re-imposing COVID-19 restrictions has no place in a post-vaccination world -- that's according to Dr. Jeanne Noble, the Director of COVID Response for UCSF's Emergency Department.

"Our, sort of, abundance of caution approach has caused a lot of harm," Dr. Noble told ABC7 News. "And since so many of us are vaccinated and well-protected, either from natural immunity or vaccination immunity, we need to acknowledge that and return to normal as quickly as we can."

She and UCSF Infectious Disease Dr. Monica Gandhi wrote a piece, published on Time.com entitled, "We Can't Just Impose Restrictions Whenever COVID-19 Surges. Here's a Better Plan for 2022."

RELATED: Sonoma Co. leaders say new COVID health order could hurt business, tourism

Part of their approach includes putting a stop to blanket mask mandates. They're even setting a timeline for schools, suggesting getting rid of the mask requirement on campuses, come January 28.

As Dr. Noble explained, that's 12 weeks after the last school-aged child was vaccine eligible.

"I would be excessively optimistic I think, to say that I think our mask mandates are going to disappear in 12 days or so," she added. "But it is- we really are getting on to the cusp of reevaluating this. When is it that we are going to drop our masks and pull back on some of these measures? And we need objective metrics to say when."

VIDEO: Could the COVID-19 pandemic end soon? Here's what experts say about endemic phase

The highly-infectious omicron variant could hasten the pandemic to end after the surge, according to several experts ABC7 News talked to.

She said these blanket mandates were appropriate early on in the pandemic, but no longer are necessary.

"We are hoping for targeted COVID policies going forward. As soon as this omicron surge is done," Dr. Noble added. "Which for us here in the Bay Area, we think is really only a few weeks away. We're about at our peak now."

Dr. Noble explained masking makes sense for the most vulnerable populations, saying it makes sense for COVID policies to be directed to those groups.

"And no longer use these broad mandates that don't take into account who really needs protection from COVID and who does not, in this post-vaccination era," she continued.

However, San Jose State's Assistant Professor of Public Health Dr. Marcelle Dougan said new variants make it very clear the disease is still evolving.

"We saw the delta virus and then the omicron virus," Dr. Dougan told ABC7 News. "It's become very much part of a reality. So, I would not be in a hurry to ditch all the public health measures yet."

She continued, "If there's one thing that we learned, it's that certain people are more likely to develop COVID than others... are more likely to contract it... are more likely to develop it... are more likely to die."

RELATED: People trying to find COVID tests are 'clogging up' Bay Area emergency rooms, doctors say

Dr. Dougan explained we have seen this among our frontline workers, among our communities of color, and more.

"And any kind of public health looking forward needs to pay attention and focus on reducing the burden of disease in his groups," she added.

She emphasized, "Whether it's endemic, whether it's a pandemic, there's still a danger for people with these conditions."

However, more health experts are looking to the future. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published "A National Strategy for the 'New Normal' of Life with COVID."

VIDEO: East Bay parents, teachers upset over handling of omicron surge

Parents and teachers in the West Contra Costa School District are fed up with the district's handling of the omicron surge.

You can find more on that research here.

While limited on specifics, the approach by the association is in line with Drs. Gandhi and Noble, as they maintain omicron is pushing COVID-19 towards being an endemic disease that humanity can live with.

"It's really everywhere. And so it is making some of these restrictions just really impractical," Dr. Noble shared, as she referred to the omicron variant.

"Then, if we have to bring restrictions back in the future for some new threat, we do it then," she added. "But we don't continue with our restrictions, just in case we need them again."

In Santa Clara County, Don Eberhard explained that being vaccinated and boosted has provided security during the pandemic. He is an advocate for seniors across the county.

SEE ALSO: Omicron surge hasn't peaked nationwide, and 'the next few weeks will be tough:' US surgeon general

Eberhard is over 70-years-old and understands seniors are a vulnerable population, more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.

"It's a matter of just weighing what the reality of the situation is," he explained. "You can't be totally paranoid. You have to react using common sense, and find a boundary you feel comfortable within."

Eberhard continued, "I feel comfortable because both my wife and I have been boosted with a full Moderna booster. We do wear masks religiously, we do select with whom we're going to meet, how long and where..."

The couple, continuing to weigh familiar options while waiting for whatever the future holds.

When it comes to the pandemic, Eberhard said it's helped him and others to realize some important points.

"It's making people realize what they've taken for granted," he said. "And it's also bringing out sensitivities in terms of how to deal with change."