Infectious disease experts are now saying that fully vaccinated people can gather for the holidays with minimal risk. Testing in advance adds assurance that someone in the group is not unknowingly infected with COVID and thus capable of spreading the virus. When the gathering includes elderly, pregnant, immunocompromised, or unvaccinated people (eg, children under age 5) or partially vaccinated people (eg, children ages 5-11), testing for COVID before gathering becomes more important. It will be necessary to make appointments well in advance if you plan to use a pharmacy for testing. Home antigen tests are now available in some pharmacies and big box stores, to keep on hand for the times they are needed. Masking when indoors adds another layer of protection to any gathering (though of course is impossible during a meal). See also these NYT articles: and

The COVID Advisory Group last met November 8, and protocols for New Garden Friends Meeting will continue mostly the same through the Holiday season. Specifically, we will continue semi-programmed Meeting for Worship (MFW) outdoors and/or by Zoom and Facebook Live, now back to 11 a.m. Friends will be notified if weather does not permit in-person outdoor worship. Unprogrammed MFW may take place outdoors or indoors, in accordance with current masking and distancing protocols. Other small group meetings indoors at the Meeting House may take place by reservation (email: [email protected]). We did as a group discuss and approve outdoor singing at MFW with appropriate distancing and continuation of masking. Our next meeting of the COVID Medical Advisory Group will be December 6, so if you have any COVID questions or concerns that you would like addressed please contact Janie Foy, Jennifer Schaal, or Kat Rice prior to that meeting.

The NC Dashboard managed by the NC department of Health shows the continuation of lower case numbers of COVID and hospitalizations this week. Nationally there are some trends towards increasing cases, particularly where cases have recently been low. The COVID test positive rate was 6.2% this week in NC. Statewide, 28 % of persons hospitalized with COVID are in ICU beds. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that as of 11/4//21 children represented 27% of total cases nationwide and 2-4% of hospitalizations. Although the number of hospitalized cases of children with COVID is low, COVID is now one of the top ten causes of death of children in the US.

The NC total population, fully vaccinated rate, is stable this week at 56%. Nationwide the fully vaccinated rate of children ages 12-17 is reported to be slightly up at 50%, but as of 11/10/21 59% of 12–17-year-olds had received at least one dose of vaccine.

The City of Greensboro continues to mandate masks indoors at city facilities, schools, and on federal transportation regardless of vaccination status, however the Guilford County Board of Commissioners met yesterday and lifted the county wide mask mandate as of yesterday (leaving it up to individual businesses). School districts continue to decide monthly whether to continue mask mandates.

Vaccination continues to be the best way to protect against COVID infections. For those who completed the initial series of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at least 6 months ago, the CDC now recommends a booster shot for people 65 years and older and for people 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings, who have underlying medical conditions (including mental health conditions), who work in high-risk settings, and who live in high-risk settings. All persons ages 18 and above who initially received the J&J vaccine are recommended to get a booster after an interval of at least 60 days since the first vaccine. Persons are also now allowed to get booster doses of a different vaccine than initially given. As of this week vaccinations for children ages 5-11 are now approved by both the FDA and CDC and are starting to be given at various community clinics and at some pediatrician offices. Vaccinations are continuing to be shown effective in decreasing illness and hospitalization in persons who are getting breakthrough cases of COVID after vaccination. Masking continues to be a good option to increase safety in moderate or large groups outdoors and in indoor public settings. Given the continuation of spread of COVID in our county, be sure to be tested if you have had a significant exposure or develop COVID symptoms. Those with conditions weakening their immune systems are encouraged not to relax their vigilance in avoiding infections, even if vaccinated.

Vaccine options for initial vaccine or for boosters remain much the same as in the last few months. They are still available through the Cone and Healthy Guilford web sites. They are requesting that appointments be made, but a few walk-in appointments are available at community vaccination clinics (including a few Saturday and Sundays at the Greensboro Coliseum), in home for those who are unable to attend a vaccination site, in pharmacies, and in some doctors’ offices. You must provide your previous vaccination dates to receive a booster.

Don’t forget to also obtain your Flu shot!

NGFM COVID Medical Advisory Group