MUSC WEBINAR April 16, 2021

MUSC will host a free webinar with epidemiologists on Friday, April 16, to discuss COVID-19 vaccinations.

Anyone looking for good news about how the pandemic’s "over" can just log on to the Facebook.

Who knew so many of our friends were actually expert epidemiologists willing to dispense helpful medical advice from the comfort of mom’s basement?

Those folks may say masks don’t work, the coronavirus is a scam and the vaccine will turn you into a zombie. They know all this, not because they’ve earned degrees in any sort of “science” — but they’ve done research.

Which means they saw a meme or listened to somebody ranting on talk radio.

For the rest of us, the Medical University of South Carolina is hosting a free public internet seminar Friday about the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

Dr. Thomas C. Quinn, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist and associate director of research at the National Institutes of Health, will lead a Zoom webinar with three experts in molecular virology, microbiology and vaccination. They'll discuss the global challenges of vaccine distribution at noon. It’s free: Webinar Registration - Zoom

The news they'll deliver isn’t as sunny or self-serving as what you’d hear from covidiots, but it’s not terrible. MUSC epidemiologist Michael Sweat, who’ll be part of the discussion, offers this preview.

Dr. Sweat says South Carolina cases have plateaued since early March. After the tsunami of winter cases, we’re averaging 21 cases per day per 100,000 residents. Which is exactly the national average ... and needs to get a little lower.

“There’s still lots of virus around,” he says.

That’s the inconvenient truth hiding behind the people packing the bars and restaurants sans masks like it's 2019. In fairness, some of those folks have been vaccinated and just don’t realize they should continue to practice safety measures that protect those who haven’t had their shots.

The masks, by the way, are to protect others — like surgeons wear while operating. But that requires concern for fellow people, which for some is anathema to freedumb.

There’s an understandable pandemic of virus fatigue out there. Unfortunately, it's fairly dangerous because the British variant of COVID-19 is bouncing around South Carolina like a pinball.

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That variant is more deadly, more easily transmitted between hosts (yes, even asymptomatic ones) and now accounts for 40% of the cases in this state. Dr. Sweat expects that percentage to go up before it declines. The good news is that “it looks like the vaccine protects against it.”

Earlier this month, the country hit a record 4 million doses of the vaccine administered in a single day. More than 22% of the population is fully vaccinated. South Carolina is lagging behind, but experts expect in the coming weeks South Carolina's supply will outstrip demand and it will be easy to get a shot.

Dr. Sweat predicts we won’t reach herd immunity until 90% of people either build up immunity from infection … or get the vaccine. And a lot of those self-appointed experts swear they aren’t going to get vaccinated. Because, conspiracy.

So, basically, the people who’ve griped loudest about health and safety measures shutting down businesses and sidetracking the economy are the ones doing the most to keep businesses hamstrung and the economy struggling.

Congrats, geniuses.

Dr. Sweat is optimistic those folks will come around as more people are vaccinated … and shots become a prerequisite for frequenting some businesses or flying. So come on, do it — it's just a couple of jabs.

In the next four to eight weeks, scientists will know more about these coronavirus variants and what, if anything, can be done to get them out of here. But, spoiler alert: again, the key is getting everyone vaccinated.

Until more people have gotten shots, he recommends against relaxing safety precautions. “It would probably be smart to wait a little bit longer."

This means we have to persuade more people to turn off the echo chamber of social media and listen to those who actually know what they’re talking about — like the panelists on Friday’s MUSC Zoom webinar.

And here's more incentive: Dr. Sweat says people who are fully vaccinated, and don't have serious heart disease, can probably safely fly commercially with a mask now.

Which means travel, sanity and normalcy is close — if we can endure a couple of simple jabs.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.