If it’s starting to feel like déjà vu all over again, you’re not alone. After a too-brief moment of optimism this spring and early summer, it almost seems like we’re heading right back in to 2020.

Except we’re not.

We now have three effective vaccines. But not enough Americans have gotten the shot. The coronavirus has continued to mutate, and the delta variant is far more contagious. There will be more variants to come.

Remember, children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, so everyone needs to do their part to help curb the spread as kids head back to schools that, in many cases, do not mandate masking.

Parents are understandably worried. One local mask-optional school that already opened had 14 positive COVID-19 cases in the first week, noted Dr. Catherine Ohmstede, a pediatrician at Novant Health Dilworth Pediatrics in Charlotte. “Because the teachers and children weren’t universally masked, 150 students and staff had to quarantine. If everyone had been vaccinated or wearing a mask, only the 14 who tested positive would have had to stay home.” 

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Dr. Catherine Ohmstede

Community spread can be curtailed if more of us do our part. Here’s what we can do to help keep ourselves, our kids and our communities safe. And if you know someone who’s unvaccinated, share this letter from Ohmstede.

Wear a mask

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reversed its guidance from April to say that people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine should wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the U.S. where the pandemic is spreading. That includes much of North Carolina.

If you don’t want your kids to have to mask, Ohmstede gets it. “I do not want my children to wear masks to school, either,” she said.

“At the beginning of July, when transmission rates were low, I was overjoyed that it looked like it would be safe for my vaccinated daughter to start high school without a mask. Now, we’re seeing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases. One in five COVID-19 diagnoses are in children. Children’s hospitals in other states are admitting more critically ill children than at any previous time during the pandemic.” Like it or not (and no one likes it), wearing masks saves lives and slows the spread of transmission.

Get the vaccine

Think having COVID-19 offers enough protection? Please reconsider. “People who have had COVID-19 often have some immunity after recovering, but the level of protection varies from person to person, and we don't know how long this protection lasts,” said Becky DeCamillis, a physician assistant with Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists in Winston-Salem. “Since immunity after infection is unreliable, we can't say for sure that having COVID-19 protects someone from passing it to others or getting infected again, although reinfection is uncommon within the first 90 days after testing positive.”

Vaccination, on the other hand, provides consistent immunity with higher antibody levels than what is seen after COVID-19 infection, she said. Immunity from the vaccines is also proving to be long-lasting. Therefore, it is recommended that those who have previously had COVID-19 get vaccinated.

The vaccine is safe. “Over 4 billion doses of COVID vaccine have been given with minimal side effects,” Ohmstede said. “Throughout history, all side effects of vaccines have presented within the first six weeks of vaccination.” 

Some 97% of hospitalizations have been unvaccinated people. Getting vaccinated greatly reduces chance of serious illness.

Be empathetic with your kids

“Don’t tell children they need to simply ‘get over’ being scared or anxious,” said Dr. Kaylan Edwards, a pediatrician with Novant Health Pediatrics Brunswick. It’s not going to help and will only make them feel worse.” This is a scary, uncertain time for all of us – particularly kids and teens. Let them know it’s OK to be nervous, and tell them there are things we can all do to protect ourselves and others.

Remember the golden rule

There may be no better example than this pandemic of how interdependent we all are. One person’s actions (or inaction) can have life-and-death consequences for another. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

“Last week, I had to drive to the mountains to retrieve my daughter from summer camp, which closed abruptly due to the spread of COVID-19 from one unvaccinated counselor to other counselors,” Ohmstede said. No one wants to bear the guilt of infecting others. Why would you risk being the reason school is shut down?   

“It’s time for us all to do our part to keep our friends and family safe, end this latest pandemic surge and provide the life we want for our children,” Ohmstede added. When you choose not to get vaccinated, you chose to increase the chance of infecting those around you, especially young children who don’t have that option yet.

Be (extra) kind to everyone

We’re all weary, and we all want to return to normal. Many people are afraid. Many have suffered loss. Let’s take a collective breath. Think before we speak – or post on social media. We’re still in the midst of a modern-day plague. There’s a lot we cannot control. But we can control how we treat each other.