Basic public health interventions important to reducing omicron spread

Epidemiologist Chris Beyrer suggests that in addition to sharing effective vaccines around the world, basic practices such as masking and providing paid sick leave will help reduce the spread of coronavirus

While the world waits on data regarding omicron, a coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly around the world, epidemiologists and health care experts again point to basic public health practices that can significantly reduce the spread of disease.

While concerns have arisen about whether the existing COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against this new strain of the virus, Chris Beyrer, a professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in an op-ed in Barron's that the goal should still be to share high-efficacy vaccines with the rest of the world. Even if these vaccines do not entirely stop the spread of coronavirus, they still significantly reduce the risk of severe illness and death.

Importantly, he notes, "nonvaccine interventions still have a role to play."

The first, he says, is masking—an intervention that protects the wearer as well as those around them. From Barron's:

First, masks protect others from spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Since so many persons with COVID-19 infection have mild or no symptoms, masking must be universal to be effective. Masking is much more useful than temperature screening, for example, which only identifies people with fever (whether or not it's due to COVID-19.) But masks, for the person wearing one, also reduce the probability that if they are exposed to COVID-19, they will have a serious case. This is because wearing a mask reduces the dose of virus, what physicians call the inoculum, making it more likely you will have a mild case.

He also advocates for paid sick leave—a standard benefit for many higher-income workers, but not a universal benefit for all workers, even in countries like the United States. "Failure to provide paid sick leave is just one of many examples of where social systems have increased how people are exposed to COVID-19, which then magnify the community risks," Beyrer writes. "Many of the ethnic and racial disparities we've seen with COVID-19 in the U.S. are related to these kinds of limitations."

Read more from Barron's