What is herd immunity? How do we get there? Answers to your COVID-19 questions

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Dr. Betsey Tilson serves as the State Health Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Wednesday, she joined ABC11 to discuss herd protection, the new normal and more as the state combats the spread of COVID-19.

A partial transcript follows. To hear the full segment, watch the video in the media player above.

How do we get to herd immunity or herd protection?

The concept of herd immunity means there's enough people in your population that has immunity and that can then decrease that spread throughout the population. So, it's unlikely that two non-immune people are coming in contact with each other.

The level of herd protection or herd immunity that you need varies based on the infectious disease. A lot of it depends on the infectivity, so we don't know that for this, COVID-19, since it's new, but what we know from other infectious diseases is you need about 85 to 95 percent of your population immune to have effective herd immunity.

Do we really need to accept that life will not be normal until the vaccine is developed and distributed?

What Gov. Cooper called the "new normal." We want to be sure that there are things in place. He talked about access to testing, expanded contact tracing ... so we can track the spread of the disease ... we can loosen some restrictions and ... allow more movement of our lower-risk people, but we're still going to have to do, especially over the next year until we have a vaccine, continue to protect those vulnerable people, the people at higher risk for clinical severity. We're going to still need to cocoon and think about what are our strategies to continue to protect our vulnerable population while we're loosening some of the restrictions for our lower-risk populations.

So, there will need to be a new norm for a while.

Where do we stand now with the contact tracing?

The contact tracing is done through our local health departments and so it really depends on what's going on in that county. So, the contact tracing is definitely still going on. It's just that in some counties if they had a nursing home outbreak. That contact tracing, that containment is shifted to some of our high-priority settings. But in other counties when they don't have an outbreak, great, they can still do that contact tracing.

A lot of people are getting out on trails and greenways. How can you make yourself safer when you are passing by people, especially when they're running or maybe breathing heavily on those trails? Is there anything we can do?

As much as possible if you can have distance from people, like be on the other side of the trail or go up on the dirt, but remember ... what makes you at high risk from maybe a contact is within six feet for a prolonged period of time, 20 minutes or so. Just briefly passing by somebody on the trail is probably very, very low risk.
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