Editorial: We have to end the misplaced fight over where COVID-19 spreads, and shift our energy toward how to mitigate it | Editorial

Andrew M. Santos

Tucked in the May 8, 2020, edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave us a strong framework of the forces shaping the early spread of the coronavirus.

“Various factors contributed to accelerated spread during February-March 2020, including continued travel-associated importations, large gatherings, introductions into high-risk workplaces and densely populated areas, and cryptic transmission resulting from limited testing and asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread,” the document said.

Let’s unpack that a bit. “Travel-associated importations” could mean trips via plane, train or bus. “Large gatherings” could refer to sporting events, weddings or graduation ceremonies. “Introductions into high-risk workplaces and densely populated areas” could be a number of things, from visiting nursing homes to walking in a crowded tourism district. And most importantly, “cryptic transmission” still is a reality, most recently redefined by new questions about how the vaccinated can spread the virus or experience symptoms in breakthrough cases.

There’s one key difference, though: In February and March of 2020, we had few strategies to combat COVID-19 other than the odd introduction of the term “social distancing” to our lives. The CDC did not even recommend the wearing of cloth masks until early that April and Virginia did not have a statewide indoor mask mandate until late May. Until then, we tiptoed in and out of “essential” businesses and wondered if “nonessential” activities ever would return.

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