County health provides straight-forward answers to COVID-19 questions, myths

By Wesley LeBlanc

Editors note: In a one-on-one interview with Clay Today reporter Wesley LeBlanc, Clay County’s Florida Department of Health director Heather Huffman sorted through the facts and misinformation of COVID-19.

CLAY COUNTY – There’s a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, and thanks to more unofficial and social media sources, there’s also a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 out there, too.
Clay Today spoke to Clay County’s Florida Department of Health director, Heather Huffman, about COVID-19 to help determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. Her answers are based on science and facts shared by the state’s 67 health departments, along with other national and worldwide organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and the National Institute of Health.

Here are the facts:

Are masks effective? Are they

Huffman: “The CDC continues to recommend mask-wearing. There are different levels of masks and grade coverings, though. N95s are the hospital ones, and we want people to keep those for healthcare workers. The next level is a surgical mask that you would find a doctor wearing during surgery and then there are standard facial coverings. We recommend multiple layers with these – not just one piece of material, but two or three.
“Masks are a form of source control. That’s why surgeons wear them in surgical wings. The effectiveness of them depends on the layers, the material, et cetera. It’s a form of mitigation, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. That’s why we still recommend social distancing, regardless of vaccination status.

“When wearing a mask, though, it must be properly worn. Wearing a mask below the nose is useless.

The Delta and other variants
Is the Delta variant more infectious? Why do variants pop up?

Huffman: “The Delta is more contagious and more infectious. In fact, it’s two-and-a-half to three times more infectious. The whole purpose of a virus, and its entire mission, is to survive. They’ll learn to replicate faster or they’ll mutate and change some of its genetic material just enough to survive. The virus does not care if you’re black or white, old or young, overweight or skinny, Republican or Democrat – it does not matter. It wants a host and it’s non-discriminatory in choosing one.”

COVID-19 vaccines

Can I still get COVID-19, even if I’ve already had it? Should I still get vaccinated?

Huffman: “We’ve learned more and more about this virus as it’s come about and it’s only been about 18 months. In that time, there’s been a lot of retrospective studies and controlled randomized double-blind studies. All of that has allowed us to determine that natural immunity has a waning effect – about 90 days. Why should you get vaccinated? Because it’s important to create long-term immunity since natural immunity after getting it only lasts 90 days.
“Despite what people might say, there aren’t any concerns about the ingredients for the vaccines. The technology in mRNA vaccines [which is what’s found in Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine] is new to the public, but it’s been on the shelf since the early 1990s. The best way to describe it, it’s like a gossip tree. That’s what an mRNA vaccine is. It doesn’t even enter the cell. It’s just the messenger, like a pigeon bird, that tells your cells to create these proteins to fight the virus. It’s attaching to … basically a fat molecule and allowing it to send messages to our cells that we need to create spike proteins.
“Even the Pope recommends getting vaccinated.”

What to do when you get COVID-19
What should someone do when they get COVID-19? What medicines should they take?

Huffman: “If someone tests positive, they need to be isolated immediately, even within their own home. They need to contact the people they’ve been around and let them know. If you’re within the first few days, go to the Jacksonville Public Library and get the monoclonal antibodies. It’s free and studies show a 70% decrease in hospitalization in COVID-19 patients who receive these antibodies.
“We’ve developed these antibodies through pharmaceutical processes. It allows us to give antibodies to someone in a robust format instead of waiting for the body to create them as a response. Both these antibodies and the COVID-19 vaccine have come on board after COVID-19 hit. For people that are already vaccinated and get COVID-19, I’ve heard that the monoclonal antibodies make them feel better in terms of symptoms as quickly as 36 hours later. These antibodies are FDA emergency-use authorized.
“After this, seek medical attention if you need it only from a primary care physician or emergency care. The health department can only do contact tracing through lab or physician tests – if you do an over-the-counter test and want us to do contact tracing, we’re going to ask you to get a test from us or a lab or a physician. The rule of thumb for all of this is simple: if you’re being tested, you should be isolated until you get your test results.
“Only take medicine recommended by your doctor or the CDC … so not ivermectin.”

COVID-19 in schools
How does contact tracing in schools work?

Huffman: “I think we have a lot of parents misinformed about how we do contact tracing. One caveat right off the bat this year: at-home tests. Parents need to remember, if their child tests positive with a home test, we can’t do contact tracing and proper quarantine orders until they get a test done with us or in a lab or from a physician. That’s because I don’t have the authority to order contact tracing and quarantine protocol unless the test is from a lab or a physician. Orders after an at-home test won’t hold up legally. I can’t do anything in those instances.
“So if you do get a lab or physician test, you should then let us know. If you use an at-home test, you’ll be what we call a suspected test and we’ll ask you to come in for a confirmatory test, and then we can actually count you as a confirmed case.
“When an individual gets a test, we can’t do anything until we get a positive back. That’s why it’s very important for people to isolate themselves if they’re testing. It may take two days to get the result back. After that, we’ll interview the case, contact the school, determine where they were sitting and what classes they attended, et cetera. Right now, the quickest we can do is about five days after getting the positive test. We’re getting 200 cases a day and we just can’t do any faster with that number of cases.”
Final thoughts
Huffman: “I don’t want people to become so desensitized to COVID-19. It’s everywhere. It can happen at a grocery store, at a soccer game, at school, in church. The way to mitigate that and prevent that, if they’re 12 or older, is to get vaccinated. You should also social distance and wear a mask.
“Don’t take your foot off the gas and please get vaccinated. I believe in vaccinations, otherwise, myself and my husband and my kids wouldn’t be vaccinated. The mortality rate for COVID-19 in Clay County is 2%. On top of that, 95% plus of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The proof is right there, it’s in the numbers.”

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