More than 500,000 people have died in America from COVID-19, and the number of positive cases nears 30 million — more than any other country worldwide. Globally, cases exceed 100 million, and there’ve been almost 3 million deaths. 

These numbers should alarm us all, and the traumatic experience we’ve shared in the last year shows they’ll continue to grow if we don’t make science-based decisions to prevent as many deaths as possible.

I’m a licensed medical practitioner, so this is where my expertise comes in. In my work, I get to engage with and support all kinds of amazing people in my community, daily — it’s my pleasure to keep them safe with COVID-19 testing and now, vaccinations as we roll them out slowly but surely. 

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve tested an estimated 40,000 individuals. We’ve vaccinated 15,000 individuals since Jan 4, 2021, and we plan to vaccinate another 6,000 between now and the end of March!

Even with these amazing numbers, our work isn’t close to done.

The COVID-19 Pandemic — One Year Later

Having just marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, where are we COVID-19 containment?1.

1.  Today’s Outlook & the Role Politics Plays

Depending on where you are in the country and how your state handles the pandemic, you might not feel like hope is on the horizon. But it could be: The New York Times reports there’s been a 37% decrease in cases, with an average of 68,038 cases per day.

To give you some perspective, it only took three months for the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. to reach 2 million. 

Although the U.S. is averaging fewer than 70,000 new cases per day — something that hasn’t occurred since October — we have limited insight into the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants that emerged in the fall of 2020 and have circulated globally since.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), what we do know is the variants are highly transmissible and have three spike protein mutations. Plus, scientists suggest it may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variants.

In fact, Colorado was the first state to discover the initial COVID-19 variant in the U.S. at the end of December — while our number of cases per day decreased by 19% within the last two weeks, the variants continue to spread. This may be an uncomfortable truth, but the more hosts they find, the more mutations will occur. Now, we have to be vigilant about both COVID-19 contamination and the spread of mutations. It’s truly a race against time.

Sadly, reducing the risk of infection has also been a race against politics. 

Evidence shows wearing masks and social distancing helps limit COVID-19 spread, yet people have pushed back against this life-saving information and accompanying regulations since the onset of the pandemic. (Some folks in West Palm Beach, Florida even dubbed the city’s mask mandate “devil’s law.”)

The pervasive belief that mask mandates and lockdown measures infringe Americans’ constitutional rights is a dangerous one that’s partly responsible for the many lives lost and forever changed by this virus. 

No matter your political affiliation, denying science does nothing to further our understanding of the world around us. This severe matter of life and death demands we get through it as a united community; yet, time and time again, we’ve seen political figures undermine the virus and recommended safety measures amid skyrocketing deaths — even those who represent states with spiking numbers of cases per day. 

Politicizing public health recommendations — and then gatekeeping treatment solutions — threatens the safety of U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, we can only do so much to stop COVID deniers from believing safety and lockdown measures restrict their freedom, but we can keep our eyes on the prize: work together as citizens to prevent as many unnecessary illnesses and deaths in our country.

2.  Testing, Vaccines & the Future

We have a vaccine! 

Before we dive into the second present-day update of COVID-19, the development of vaccines is cause for celebration, especially for marginalized and underserved populations. 

Prior to the availability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, testing, social distancing and mask-wearing led the charge (and still do!) to increased COVID-19 containment. 

As a practicing physician who was at the forefront of testing, I can confidently say that testing is an essential step toward controlling further outbreaks. For starters, countries that effectively curbed the spread of COVID-19 — like New Zealand and Australia — have two things in common: comprehensive testing and contact tracing. 

Our World in Data says contact tracing supports the comprehensive testing models that have diminished COVID-19 spread. And because testing helps governments identify larger portions of infected citizens, it enables them to make appropriate self-isolation recommendations.

As data develops about the impact of COVID vaccinations, people are observing and critiquing the phases of distribution rollouts across the country (learn more about Colorado’s rollout!). The CDC reports millions of people get vaccinated each week. At the time of this writing, more than 126 million vaccines have been administered; 24.9% of the population has received at least one dose, while 13.5% has received both.

On average, providers administer close to 1.5 million doses per day, and most states, including Colorado, have plans to scale up vaccination efforts week by week. Vaccination is opening up to more and more individuals on a regular basis; be sure to check your state’s qualifying criteria. 

In the meantime, let’s support each other in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of ideological beliefs, the science is clear: Testing, social distancing, mask-wearing and vaccinations are our best strategies.

3. The Mask Facts Remain Unchanged

When we decouple political party angles from the research, what are we left with? Scientific evidence. 

The CDC found that social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings collectively minimize the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Additionally, vaccinations and systematic testing increasingly help slow and prevent spread. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also said distance between people is an extremely effective tactic to reduce the risk of contraction. In fact, 3 feet of distance can reduce the chance of infection from 13% to just 3%. That means every additional 3 feet of distance (up to 10 feet) reduces the risk of infection by half, according to Live Science, which also found that face masks can reduce the chance of transmission by 80%.

These findings don’t surprise me, given the established literature that outlines how the coronavirus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, hence the recommendation of distance.

Keep in mind, though, that masks aren’t a substitute for social distancing, particularly when around those who have not been vaccinated or in settings where vaccination status is unknown. Respiratory droplets can travel from one individual to another, so it’s best to remain at least 6 feet apart while wearing a physical barrier that protects your nose and mouth — this makes it more difficult for the droplets to enter and leave your body. 

Here are a few other mask facts to remember:

  • You should completely cover your nose and mouth with your mask, and ensure there are no big gaps on the sides of your face. If needed, tie your mask strings on each side to tighten it around your face.
  • Kids need masks, too! From ages 2 and up, wear masks in public settings and when around people outside of your household.​
  • Your scarf, knitted, ski mask or otherwise isn’t as effective at keeping you and others safe.
  • Wear a mask at home if someone you live with shows COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive.

Finally, remember that masks save lives. 

Social distancing efforts and mask-wearing practices are two of our strongest defenses against additional waves of COVID-19 infections. Vaccine distribution is well underway and we will likely have enough doses for everyone across the coming months.

Requirements for masks and social distancing are now fairly standard practice, but so many people still disagree with the facts. However, scientific evidence is why my family and I wear our masks on walks through the park, and any other time we may encounter others, even from afar.

To learn more about the proper use of masks, check out the CDC’s guidance about masks

What Doing My Part Looks Like

Like I mentioned before, the team at my clinic and I will continue to focus our efforts on finding safe and creative ways to keep our communities healthy and open by offering the vaccine and other, supportive healthcare. COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available to more people on a regular basis now; Colorado is on the verge of offering vaccination to everyone 16 y/o and over in the very near future.

My team and I continue to find ways to provide services with the best safety measures in place. For example, we adhere to the local mandates and statewide initiatives that require masks in indoor establishments as well as some outdoor spaces. 

However, this doesn’t reduce the level of care you’ll receive. Medical professionals, including myself, are here to help stop the spread of misinformation and arm you with the knowledge on how you can keep yourself and others safe. 

But if you need anything else, we’re here for that, too.

Meet Dr. Savita Ginde

Dr. Savita Ginde is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health and served as Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for over 13 years. And, until very recently, she served as the Chief Healthcare Officer for STRIDE Community Health Center where she oversaw all of STRIDE’s healthcare services and led their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.