Information You Need: Why do guidelines keep changing?

This is a learning process and we are all in this together! Because so much about the virus is unknown and uncertain, trusting and following the most recent guidance released by the experts and scientists who are at the forefront of the pandemic will help us get back to normal sooner. While it’s natural to be uncertain when suggested guidance changes, we are here to help! 

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a novel virus that has most likely never been transmitted from animals to humans before the outbreak in late 2019. Since the virus is so new, scientists have a lot to learn – and they must do so very quickly. This helps to explain why guidance surrounding COVID-19 is always changing to reflect the most up to date information. 

  • It’s important for all of us to be flexible and adjust to new guidelines regarding the virus, but only if they are changed or updated by reliable sources and backed by scientists. For information about reliable COVID-19 sources, visit our previous update. While it’s stressful to try to stay up to date on all of the information, it will help to keep you and your loved ones safe! 
  • The important thing to remember is that even though guidance is evolving, this should not lead to skepticism or mistrust of the scientific community, but rather the opposite. Scientists and health professionals acknowledge that they are learning new information almost daily about the virus. 
  • It is much more trustworthy that scientists update guidelines and recommendations as new information is released, instead of standing by older, less guidance.

Here are some examples of how and why guidelines have been updated since the start of the pandemic:

Some Reactions to Changing GuidelinesWhat You Should Know
REACTION: Reliable sources like the WHO and CDC said that wearing a face covering wouldn’t prevent infection at the beginning of the pandemic. Does this mean that masks aren’t helpful?Wearing a mask DOES help! This guidance was updated after studies found asymptomatic people were able to spread the virus and when evidence suggested cloth face coverings could reduce the amount of virus emitted effectively without needing to use the N95 and surgical masks reserved for healthcare workers. These were in critically short supply at the beginning of the pandemic and health care workers were at very high risk. The CDC and WHO now recommend that everyone, while in public, should wear a cloth face covering with at least two-layers.

In the beginning of the pandemic, scientists said that the virus spread easily on objects and surfaces, but now they are saying it does not spread as easily this way. I feel like I can’t trust public health experts because of these mixed messages.

We are learning new information about the virus almost every day. Based on the available science during the beginning of the pandemic, scientists believed that transmission could easily occur through touching contaminated objects or surfaces. This was based on finding genetic RNA from the virus on surfaces hours and sometimes days after they had been contaminated. As more studies are being conducted, scientists have gained a much better understanding of transmission. However, erring on the side of caution is never a bad thing as surface transmission is still possible, but not as common as initially thought.

REACTION: When the pandemic started, we were told to not interact with anyone outside of our household. Now I’m hearing that it’s okay to create “pandemic pods.” What should I be doing?
Creating a pandemic pod can be a good way to restore some normalcy, as long as necessary precautions are taken. As the need for physical distancing continues, many people are searching for a sense of normalcy. Mental health is also critically important and there are ways to make getting together safer. This is especially important for children. There is always some risk of COVID-19 for in-person gatherings; however, creating a pandemic pod is a way to lessen the possibility for COVID-19 spread, while still socializing with the same small group of people who practice similar prevention practices. COVID-19 risk level differs by each pod and is dependent on many factors. For more information about creating the safest pandemic pod, visit our previous update.

Early on, there was also uncertainty about who is at high risk for COVID-19. Now we are aware of these higher risk groups and that it is important to limit interactions with vulnerable populations. Whether or not someone is a high risk individual is an important determining factor for starting a pandemic pod. 

REACTION: I remember hearing that get-togethers are completely unsafe, but now it’s okay to see others in outdoor spaces …
There is always some level of COVID-19 risk associated with socializing in person, but doing so outdoors can help reduce some of the risk! The virus tends to spread the easiest in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. These types of spaces allow the virus to build up in the air so you are exposed to higher doses. So, if you do decide to get together with others in person, doing so outdoors, while practicing physical distancing and wearing a cloth face covering, is the safest option. 
REACTION: Even though I’m hearing that COVID-19 is highly-contagious, it also seems to be safe to make short trips, to the grocery store for example. Does this mean that the virus isn’t really THAT contagious?Your risk of catching COVID-19 is different for each activity. How risky an activity is depends on the amount of time that you are exposed to the virus, how close you are to the person who is infected, and the amount of virus that you are exposed to per unit of time (this is determined by how much virus the person you are exposed to is putting into the air). What this means is that taking a quick trip to the grocery store (while wearing a cloth face covering and following physical distancing guidelines) is relatively low risk because of the short amount of time that you are spending there, and the ease of maintaining physical distance from others. Risk is also related to the volume of the building or area someone is in. A grocery store is large comparatively to a taxi, uber, or closed, smaller space. However, if possible online shopping is a great option to reduce exposure to people even more. For more information on assessing levels of risk, see this helpful graphic on our previous update.

Staying up to date on evolving COVID-19 information will help everyone be more safe and productive during this time!

Comments are closed.