Restrictions are easing up, but should you ease up on hygiene practices?


The United States, the United Kingdom, and several countries in Europe have gradually been easing pandemic restrictions. However, we should still adhere to crucial hygiene and safety measures in order to stay healthy and safeguard the health of those around us. Health experts explain why.

As countries around the world race to ensure that their populations are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, some have already started to ease certain restrictions related to the pandemic.

In the United States, for instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have announced that fully vaccinated individuals may now go to most places without having to wear a face covering.

In the United Kingdom, more and more previously shut venues, such as restaurants and cinemas, are reopening. Also, official guidelines indicate that people may now hug if they feel comfortable doing so and exercise caution.

Various European countries have also gradually been lifting restrictions, as have some parts of Australia. However, health experts urge individuals not to leave behind their commitment to good hygiene practices going forward.

To find out why and discover which practices we should stick to in order to continue ensuring our own safety and that of other people, Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Scott Kaiser, the director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, and Dr. Eva Beaulieu, an internal medicine hospitalist.

Conflict of interests disclaimer: Dr. Beaulieu is also a spokesperson for disinfectant product manufacturer Clorox.

Why ongoing adherence is important

As more and more people around the world get vaccinated against COVID-19, they will once again start to take part in activities that they used to enjoy before their countries’ officials introduced pandemic restrictions.

Many of us have been looking forward to meeting up with friends and family in person, going to restaurants, attending events, and traveling again. However, even as restrictions may ease in some regions or for those who have had their COVID-19 vaccines, adhering to strict hygiene practices remains important.

Vaccination rollouts are helping, but “we are still in a pandemic,” Dr. Kaiser emphasized. “The SARS-CoV-2 virus, including a steady stream of new variants, continues to circulate globally causing […] new COVID-19 cases.”

“Some parts of the world are still suffering the deadly consequences of massive outbreaks, and we should [be aware] of the ways we as individuals can ‘stop the spread’ of this virus and other viruses,” he told us.

Although vaccines are effectiveTrusted Source in preventing COVID-19 and possibly reducing the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2, it remains unclear how long they are effective for and just how much they reduce the risk of further transmission.

These are some of the reasons that maintaining caution as we navigate a world with fewer restrictions will be helpful in ensuring the further easing of those regulations.

“[A] large portion of the population is still not fully vaccinated, and with this, we do continue to see new COVID-19 cases — and deaths — each day,” said Dr. Kaiser.

“And even as more and more people do get vaccinated, a small percentage of people cannot get the vaccine due to ‘contraindications,’ and certain high risk immunocompromised people may not receive the full protection of vaccines.”

Beyond the threat of infection with SARS-CoV-2, people must remember that other pathogens are still at large, both Dr. Kaiser and Dr. Beaulieu told us.

Since the start of the pandemic, headlines worldwide have understandably focused on the impact of the new coronavirus. In this context, it can be easy to forget that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, local outbreaks of infectious diseases were still a public health issue to be reckoned with.

“It’s important to maintain strict hygiene practices even as the pandemic restrictions are easing because there are plenty of other viruses, and other germs, that people may spread that can cause terrible harm. Seasonal influenza, [or] the flu, for example, still kills tens of thousands of Americans each year,” Dr. Kaiser pointed out.

“A lot of the strict hygiene practices that have been widely adopted during the pandemic stem from principles that healthcare professionals have always used to help mitigate the spread of germs,” Dr. Beaulieu said.

“The pandemic has called our attention to some of the hygiene outages that existed before and has demonstrated how addressing some of those outages can help improve overall public health long into the future,” she added.

Dr. Beaulieu also noted that, thanks to adherence to a combination of strict public health measures, the spread of various infectious diseases fell significantly throughout 2020. In fact, according to the CDC, the cumulative hospitalization rate for flu was 0.8 cases per 100,000Trusted Source people during the 2020–2021 flu season.

For reference, this is about “one-tenth the rate as during the 2011–12 season,” according to CDC information.

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