Letter to the Editor: A Perspective on Increase in Covid-19

~ Submitted by Ann A. Kiessling, Ph.D.

Should the increase in SARS2-positive tests in the Bedford Schools Sound a Public Health Alarm?

The answer is no, not at this time.

The clearest characteristic of the SARS2/COVID19 pandemic has been the relative lack of serious illness and death among children and healthy adults.  Beginning early in the pandemic, antibody surveillance studies revealed there were far more SARS2 infected people than positive tests reported because most infected persons had not been ill.  That holds true today.  Moreover, since home test kits are now widely available, positive tests are no longer a useful metric of disease threat because many positive and negative tests are not reported to health officials.

Currently, the best metric for community disease threat from SARS2/COVID19 is hospitalization and death, not positive tests nor concentration of virus in wastewater.  State wide, there are only 230 persons hospitalized for COVID19 with two new deaths in Middlesex County, average age of 82.  A more dynamic measure of disease burden is Emergency Department (ED) visits for COVID19, a metric tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_totaldeaths_7dayeddiagnosed).  Last week in the Commonwealth only 3% of ED visits were for COVID19, down from 18% in January, 2022, when about 3,000 persons were hospitalized for COVID19.

According to Bedford Health Department data recently revised by the MA Dept of Public Health, Bedford remains relatively safe from COVID19.  A small percentage of SARS2 infected people suffer symptoms for weeks afterward (“long covid”), similar to flu victims, although given most persons are unaware of their infection, the exact incidence of long term symptoms is unknown.  A total of 55 Bedford residents (< 0.4% of the population) have died from COVID19, adjusted down from the 65 previously reported, most of whom (40 men and 6 women, average age of 84) died in the first half of 2020.  No Bedford children nor young adults have died from COVID19.

As the marked decrease in ED visits for COVID19 reveals, the SARS2 infections currently circulating through the Bedford schools are not a serious disease threat to the school community, nor most Bedford residents.  They are a threat to elderly and vulnerable persons who can, and should, be protected from infection by routine testing of their contacts.  In the long view, the mild form of SARS2 circulating through the Bedford school community may develop extremely valuable immune protection against what may come in the future.

Editor’s Note: Ann A. Kiessling, Ph.D., is an elected member of the Bedford Board of Health

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Heather Randhahn
May 17, 2022 7:53 am

I couldn’t disagree more. Covid remains a dangerous illness and I am continuing to take measures to protect myself, especially on behalf of my elderly parents. Because of the continuing threat of new variants, I don’t see any gains from post-Covid immunity, which is temporary and not necessarily protective from new variants. Covid may be endemic, but I will do my best to avoid transmission through vaccination and masking indoors in public.

Benjamin Root
May 16, 2022 10:41 pm

The testing in schools have been at roughly the same level across the district for the past school year. It represents the most consistent dataset we can use to understand the prevalence of COVID19 in our community.

The wastewater data is another fantastic source of information helping public health officials gauge the amount of spread in the community. It is completely passive, anonymous, and can be consistently measured daily regardless of holidays and changes in weather.

Both of these sources of data have shown themselves to be leading indicators of hospitalization (~2 weeks), and deaths (~4 weeks). These are *exactly* the indicators you should use to guide you to take action before infections become so widespread that people start overwhelming the hospitals.

Robert Kalantari
May 18, 2022 1:52 pm
Reply to  Benjamin Root

Thank you Dr. Kiessling for sharing this valuable information with the rest of us. The data speaks for itself, but unfortunately, some people are unable to understand and interpret the data the same way we do. That is why, those people will live their lives in fear and panic. But for those of us who understand the data, it provides us a great sigh of relief that this pandemic is over and now we need to live our lives as normal as we can before we cause any more damage to our society and especially to our children’s mental wellbeing. Thanks again for doing all this research to educate the rest of us. 

Mario Mendes
May 18, 2022 10:35 pm

I’ll add my thanks to her here too.