Taking these seven steps now can reduce your risk and minimize disruption to your family’s life.
The next wave of COVID-19 is coming, and in some parts of the United States it has already arrived. You are ready?
The culprit this time is BA.2, a subvariant of the highly infectious omicron variant. No one knows for sure how much havoc it will wreak, but BA.2 has already caused a spike in cases in Europe and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States and around the world.
Researchers are tracking the rise in cases in the United States and have detected an increase in viral particles recovered at nearly 150 sewage monitoring points. Because people can excrete the coronavirus even if they never develop symptoms, virus fragments picked up in sewage can serve as an advance warning several days before the official case count rises, said Bronwyn MacInnis, who leads pathogen genomic surveillance. at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the past two weeks, MacInnis’ group has detected a rapid rise in levels of the BA.2 subvariant in the Northeast.
“I don’t think we’re looking at a crazy lockdown scenario in this part of the world with BA.2,” MacInnis said. “But we can’t be sure that we won’t get another surprise from this virus in the future.”
U.S. health officials have said they are hopeful that BA.2 does not cause another big surge, in part because so many people were infected during the omicron season this winter and most likely have at least some natural immunity, or by vaccination, to protect against serious complications and hospitalizations.
But there are other variables that could turn the BA.2 wave into a more damaging phenomenon. One concern is that fewer than 70 percent of Americans over 65 have gotten their first booster, leaving a large group vulnerable, said Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. . And for many people who got vaccinated in the fall, immune protection may be waning. Unvaccinated people who have natural immunity from a previous infection with a different variant should know that BA.2 can easily evade these fading immune defenses.
And then there is the question of whether pandemic fatigue will prevent some people from taking reasonable precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, when the Covid numbers start to rise in their area.
“We know how to manage it,” said Robert Wachter, a professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “But the big warning will be that there are many parts of the country that are not going to be careful again. It is an illusion to believe that we are going to continue in a situation as good as the current one”.
Although the virus is unpredictable, there are clear ways to protect yourself. The plans you make now can reduce your risk of exposure, minimize disruption to the lives of your family and friends, and help ensure access to treatment if you or someone you know becomes seriously ill.
Here’s what you can do to prepare.
Pay attention to the covid figures in your community
Don’t wait for public health officials to issue alerts. Stay tuned for COVID-19 statistics for your county or region. An easy way to do this is to check out the color-coded map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shows levels of COVID-19 in communities across the country. Right now, the map is mostly a welcoming green, which means there are very low rates of community transmission. But there are a growing number of yellow dots, showing medium risk, in Texas, the Northeast, and other areas, and orange dots are appearing in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and other states, indicating that registering high rates of spread in the community.
As the map turns yellow and eventually orange in your area, you should take extra precautions, including wearing masks in public spaces and weighing large gatherings indoors when the vaccination status of others is unknown.
For an even earlier warning of COVID trends, you can check out the CDC’s Wastewater Data Tracking Map.
Another useful indicator is the rate of positive tests in your community. Experts advise taking extra precautions when you see positive test rates start to climb above five percent. The Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center shows daily trends in testing in the United States and in each state.
Have high-quality masks on hand
Even if you are not currently wearing masks, check your supply of face coverings and make sure you have enough high-quality, medical-grade masks on hand. There are a limited number of free N95 respirator masks available at pharmacies and community centers. Enter your ZIP code into the CDC Mask Locator to find a participating dealer near you.
As many communities have lifted mask mandates, when and how often you wear a mask will likely be up to you.
“The mask should be put on when you start to see the number of cases going up again,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on viral transmission.
Marr said he knows people are tired of masks, but wearing them is only a minor inconvenience and a proven way to reduce risk. “I don’t like the scaremongering, but there’s still so much we don’t know about persistent covid that I don’t want to catch it, and I don’t want anyone to,” he said.
And the more people put on masks when cases start to rise, the sooner the next wave will be over.
Ask for home covid tests as soon as possible
Every household in the United States can receive two sets of four COVID tests for free from the government; if you haven’t ordered them yet, do so now before the weather turns warm. Proofs can spoil in the heat, and you don’t want yours sitting in a mail truck for hours on a hot day.
“Now is better than a month from now, especially for people who live in hot places,” says Michael Mina, chief scientific officer at eMed, a company that verifies test results at home. “Take advantage of the program, get them and save them for when you need them”.
People with insurance can also be reimbursed for eight free trials per month. If you develop respiratory symptoms, have a fever, or just feel unusually fatigued, get tested on the first day of symptoms. If symptoms persist and your home test result is still negative a few days later, you may want to have a PCR test done at the lab to be sure.
“If you can afford it, get tested when you think you have allergies, get tested when you think you have a cold,” said Kelly Hills, a bioethicist and risk expert and co-founder of the Rogue Bioethics consultancy. “This is one of those things that I think people need to get used to setting aside money for, because the tests provide important data to make decisions.”
Put on a booster (when you meet the requirements)
Federal regulators have authorized a second booster shot for everyone age 50 and older. The agency also authorized a second booster for people age 12 and older with certain immunodeficiencies.
Although scientists still debate the value of another booster, most say people 65 and older and those who are immunocompromised are likely to benefit. If you haven’t had your first booster shot, experts agree you should get it now. If you’ve recently had covid, chances are you have as much natural protection as a booster shot would give you, at least for a while.
Protective antibodies from a vaccine or contagion tend to wane over four to five months. A well-timed booster shot tells the body to raise its antibody defenses and helps other parts of the immune system — like B cells and T cells — better remember how to fight the virus, said Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at the University Rockefeller of New York.
Get a pulse oximeter
The pulse oximeter is a small device that is placed on the finger and measures the oxygen levels in the blood. When levels drop to 92 or below, patients should see a doctor. A low oxygen level can be a sign of COVID-19 pneumonia and can increase the risk of serious complications. Devices may be less reliable for people with darker skin, so pay attention to downward trends as well as the number.
A study out of South Africa found that the risk of dying from COVID-19 was about 50 percent lower among patients who had been instructed to monitor their oxygen saturation at home. The devices can be found for about $30 at drugstores and online. (Researchers say the pulse oximeter reading from your Apple Watch is likely to be less reliable than the device worn on your fingertip.)
Make a plan for treatment with antiviral drugs
There are two oral antiviral therapies available to treat COVID-19 in the United States, although they require a prescription and are only licensed for people who may be at high risk for severe illness. One option is Paxlovid, developed by Pfizer, which is taken as three pills twice a day for five days. It is available for high-risk patients over the age of 12.
The second drug, called molnupiravir, was developed by Merck in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. It is taken as four pills twice a day for five days, and is available to high-risk adults ages 18 and older.
For the pills to be most effective, they need to be started within five days of the onset of symptoms, so it’s important to have a plan for getting your prescription and knowing which pharmacy can fill it, said Kuldip Patel, chief pharmacy senior associate at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina.
You can use the COVID-19 Therapeutic Locator to track your local drug supply and check with your doctor to make sure you can receive medication if you get sick. (Some doctors still refuse to prescribe the drugs.) You can also search for qualified pharmacy clinics near you, as well as community health centers and long-term care facilities that have a licensed medical provider so you can get tested and, if positive, receive antiviral medication on the spot.
Immunocompromised people should also talk to their doctor about Evusheld, an antiviral medicine from AstraZeneca that can be given by injection to provide an extra layer of protection on top of vaccinations.
Have contingency plans for social events and travel
If you have plans for a prom, wedding or any other important event, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan (outdoors) in case the number of cases increases in your community. If you plan to travel, do some research on the clinics and pharmacies in your destination to see if you can get antiviral medication if you get COVID-19 during your trip. Make sure you have extra funds or plenty of availability on your credit card in case you need to extend your trip to recover from covid. (You still need a negative covid test to travel abroad.)
Health experts say planning for the next wave of Covid shouldn’t be life-altering or force you to cancel travel plans or time with friends and family. In fact, being prepared for any eventuality will allow you to continue living your life as normally as possible.
“A lot of people feel like it’s a terrible inconvenience and they’re fed up, and I understand that,” said Topol of Scripps Research. “We’ve had some time off, and it’s been good. But people must be ready to prepare if necessary.”
Posted by The New York Times