The United States is in the midst of another wave of the coronavirus, this time thanks to the BA.5 subvariant of omicron. Scientists warn that the new subvariant appears to be the most transmissible version to date and is re-infecting people who have already dealt with previous variants once or twice, sometimes in short bursts when only a few weeks have passed. between infections.
The small percentage of people who avoided COVID-19 for two and a half years are also learning that BA.5 has mechanisms to get around their defenses. Even President Joe Biden, who had managed to avoid an infection, tested positive on Thursday. Like many Americans, Biden and his advisers had lowered their guard, as the COVID-19 precautions that had been put in place at the White House were relaxed.
Everyone wants to get back to normal, even though polls show few Americans are sure how should it be life with COVID-19. It is unlikely that most cities will reinstate the mandatory use of masks or other protective measures that were used in the early days of the pandemic or even in the first wave of omicron.
“We’ve had a shift in our benchmark,” said Michael Osterholm, a public health researcher and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Hospitalizations have nearly doubled since May and more than 400 Americans are dying each day, but these numbers are significantly lower than the peak of the winter wave of omicron.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we would never have accepted those numbers,” Osterholm said.
There is also the possibility of developing persistent COVID-19 symptoms, a phenomenon that researchers are still trying to fully understand. Still, experts are pondering those concerns.
“We can live our lives knowing full well that this risk exists,” said Dien Ho, a bioethicist at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Many ask questions such as: what are the public health measures that should be prioritize the nation? And what can be done on an individual level to reduce the risk of exposure, stop the relentless cycle of new variants, and minimize the occurrence in everyday life? Here are five steps you should take, if you haven’t already.
1. Get the shots and boosters you need
If you haven’t gotten your booster dose — or any shots — experts say the current wave is a good reason to make an appointment. Vaccines provide excellent protection against serious illness, and boosters can amplify those benefits. Nevertheless, less than half of Americans have received a booster dose and less than a third of the adults who meet the requirements for their second booster dose (or fourth vaccine) have received it, that is, we refer to people who are immunocompromised or older than 50 years.
The term “fully vaccinated” used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to describe the first two doses of vaccines early in the pandemic has not helped. Although the agency has since insisted on telling people that they should “catch up” on all their boosters, unfortunately the early use of the term “fully vaccinated” has remained.
“A lot of people say, ‘I got my two shots and that’s it,’” Osterholm said.
Some people may also be discouraged by new research showing that immunity against infection drops significantly in three months after injectionand the newer subvariants of omicron are much more adept at dodging immunity than older versions of the virus, Osterholm added.
New vaccines more focused on omicron subvariants are likely to arrive in the fall, and the Biden administration is considering expanding booster eligibility. But if you’re in a high-risk group who’s eligible for a second booster, you shouldn’t neglect your dose. According to Centers for Disease Control and Preventiongetting vaccinated now “will not preclude receiving a specific vaccine that is licensed in the fall or winter when that variant is recommended.”
2. Find the new indicators about COVID-19 in your community
You should pay attention to the statistics of COVID-19 to know your own risks and decide when to add more levels of protection. For much of the pandemic, the color map from the CDC for community-level risk was a good indicator of case and transmission rates. However, the agency recently changed the way these risk levels are calculated by placing more emphasis on local hospitalization rates.
Case numbers no longer closely match hospitalizations due to a mix of natural or vaccine-induced immunity, the availability of home tests and treatments, and unclear real-time monitoring of the virus. Instead, experts recommend using other means to stay informed about the risks of COVID-19 in your community: watch the local news and check social media.
Talk to your family and friends, as well as other members of your community, to find out if they have recently had COVID-19 or if they know of someone who has or recently had COVID-19, said Ajay Sethi, a health researcher public from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since you are more likely to interact with people in your community, you may have a better idea of the incidence of contagion and it could be your own risk of getting sick.
The fact that more people close to you are contracting COVID or getting infected more often, as many people across the country are, is a good indicator that you and your loved ones should start wearing masks and implementing more protections against COVID .
Some people may be hesitant to share that they have the virus, Sethi added, either because they feel outliers, are ashamed of having contracted it, or know the stigma associated with having family members with different pandemic ideologies. But “that’s the complete opposite of what we should do,” he said.
3. Wear masks and not just indoors
Wear good quality masks in public places where you need to protect yourself, whether you have COVID-19 or not. Each infection could still carry the risk of developing debilitating symptoms of persistent Covid, said Caitlin Rivers, a public health researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“To me, the reasoning hasn’t changed too much,” Rivers said. “I still wear a mask whenever I am indoors and try to move as many activities as possible outdoors.”
Other experts agree that if you don’t want to wear a mask, outdoor air is far safer than indoor air. However, even outdoors, the closer people are, the greater the risk of catching the virus.
“As BA.5 is highly contagious, we need to recognize that it’s important not to be in crowded conditions with limited air,” Osterholm said.
If you’re hosting a summer gathering, for example, you may want to invite fewer people to reduce the risk of virus transmission. You can also check that everyone is vaccinated and has recently tested negative. At larger gatherings, like outdoor concerts or weddings where you have less control, you should wear masks and watch for new symptoms for a few days afterward, Osterholm said.
4. Ten quick tests at hand… and use them
Rapid tests are an effective tool to combat the spread of COVID-19 if you use them regularly. If you only do them after you’ve had potential exposure, then you’re doing it wrong, Sethi said. Instead, mark social events by getting tested before and three to five days after large gatherings to better protect yourself and the people you meet, especially Sethi.
Have a stockpile of rapid tests at home, especially if you don’t have access to a public testing site or testing at your workplace, said Alyssa Bilinski, a health policy expert at Brown University. All houses can ask the government for three rounds of free trials, or 16 tests in total. People with insurance can also claim reimbursement for eight free trials per month.
Just remember that you can test negative even if you have Covid symptoms, Sethi said. Quarantine if you think you may be sick. One or two days after the negative result, take the test again to be sure. And, if you have covid, get tested after symptoms have subsided or even disappeared. A positive evidence test is a fairly reliable indication that you are still contagious, even though your symptoms have lessened or disappeared.
When people don’t use them often enough, rapid tests end up being less useful from a public health standpoint, Sethi said.
5. If you are traveling, find out how to get treatment
Before you leave, prepare for the possibility of getting infected while traveling.
“It’s a good idea to travel with a printed list of all your current medications, your medical and immunization history, and your personal medical contact information in case you need to seek medical attention while traveling,” said Annie Luetkemeyer, professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco campus.
Leave your credit card loose enough and read your health and travel insurance policies in detail to find out the necessary expenses they will cover if you have to extend your trip due to COVID-19. Also, do some research on clinics and pharmacies in your destination.
Although you cannot receive Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment for COVID-19, preventively without a diagnosis, you can use the locator test to treat in the United States to find places where immediate testing and treatment are available. Pharmacists can also prescribe Paxlovid directly to patients who test positive but can’t see a doctor, said Kuldip Patel, senior deputy director of pharmacy at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina.
However, outside the United States, the availability of a treatment appeared from wherever you are. Both Paxlovid and another antiviral called molnupiravir are in the list of recommended drugs by the World Health Organization to treat COVID-19 and are approved for use in several countries.
But you can also avoid the uncertainty of finding drugs abroad. If you’re at high risk for complications from Covid or may be immunocompromised and at risk of decreased vaccine efficacy, you can talk to your doctor about getting treatment with Evusheld monoclonal studies before you travel, Luetkemeyer said. You may also want to carry over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough suppressants, and throat lozenges, to help ease symptoms if you do get sick.
You can choose which steps will mitigate the most damage right now, and those calculations can be different for different people. The country is “struggling to reframe what Covid risk looks like,” Bilinski said. But that doesn’t mean we should completely give up measures that will keep us safe, he added. The rise of BA.5 may be a reminder that there is a happy medium between allowing covid precautions to dominate your life and pretending the pandemic is over.