Surgery centers weathered the COVID-19 pandemic through a combination of shutdowns, social distancing, and equipping staff with personal protective equipment — all this on top of the usual infection prevention practices.

A vaccine is on the way, but it will be months before shots are available to everyone who needs one. Thus, the winter will not be the time to ease these precautions, especially with a resurgence of cases after the year-end holidays.

The CDC says people should wear a mask, wash hands often, and stay six feet or more away from others, even after receiving two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.1

“What’s important here is that along with having this great tool — a vaccine that is highly effective — we need to keep other strategies, such as reducing contact with other people and wearing masks,” says Eli Rosenberg, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University at Albany (NY).

It could take most of 2021 to vaccinate most Americans and stamp out the pandemic. “We’re going to have only partial community protection for quite some time,” Rosenberg cautions. “We don’t want people to think the pandemic is over as the first vaccines are rolled out, because it’s so limited. Our society will look a lot like it does now for the next year.”

Researchers still need more information about how well the vaccines can reduce viral transmission. Early data show the first vaccines prevent COVID-19 illness, but not every vaccine study participant was tested routinely for SARS-CoV-2 infection. The Pfizer/BioNTech study authors collected data on people with COVID-19 infection, with both mild and more severe symptoms, and found most of these infections occurred in the placebo arm.

Investigators must collect additional data on whether vaccination can prevent people who show no COVID-19 symptoms from testing positive. Also, more research is needed to know if vaccination can prevent people from spreading the virus to others.2

This is why it is necessary to continue with behavioral approaches as the vaccines are rolled out. “We know the vaccine can prevent severe illness, but we don’t know if it’s a public health tool yet because it hasn’t shown that it prevents transmission,” Rosenberg explains.

Until the pandemic ends, surgery center leaders must continue encouraging staff and patients to wear masks and follow hand hygiene protocols. Beyond that, surgery center administrators should provide more air ventilation where possible and disinfect frequently touched surfaces properly according to public health guidance.3,4

REFERENCES

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination. Updated Dec. 13, 2020.
  2. Callaway E. What Pfizer’s landmark COVID vaccine results mean for the pandemic. Nature. Nov. 9, 2020.
  3. Honein MA, Christie A, Rose DA, et al. Summary of guidance for public health strategies to address high levels of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and related deaths, December 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1860-1867.
  4. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Masks.