It’s been more than three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, just when many were hoping we’d seen the last of the major outbreaks, we’re dealing with another one.
The virus caused major disruption to our lives and, understandably, many people were just hoping it would go away.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t. And it probably won’t.
So, how do we live with it?
The good news — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 97% of people in the U.S. have developed some immunity to COVID-19, whether that’s through vaccination, infection or both.
“At this point, the risk is lower because of our prior immunity, whether for severe outcomes or for long COVID,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and dean of the Yale School of Public Health.
“COVID is still more dangerous than the flu, but its level of danger is becoming less,” Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and dean of the Yale School of Public Health told CNN. “But for it to behave like other respiratory viruses in terms of seasonality and surges is entirely expected.”
So, just like the flu — you can expect COVID to cause illnesses. And just like the flu, that means some COVID-19 illnesses will be severe enough to require hospitalization and even deaths.
The CDC’s COVID Data Tracker shows total COVID-19 hospitalizations were up nearly 19% last week. Deaths were also up more than 21% — though deaths only occurred in 1.7% of cases.
While there is an uptick, cases are still relatively low.
The latest SARS-CoV-2 variant is labeled BA.2.86. It was newly detected in Denmark and Israel, according to the CDC, which said the variant was notable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of the virus. Several cases have been identified in the United States.
So far, current diagnostic testing and medications used to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective with BA.2.86, and while it’s too soon to know for sure, the variant does not appear to be causing more severe illness than previous versions of the virus.
Testing for COVID-19
There aren’t any real changes to the way we test for COVID-19. People can use a rapid antigen test at home. If you test positive, you can trust that the result is accurate and reliable. However, a negative test may not be as reliable because antigen tests are less likely to detect the virus than the more reliable PCR tests.
“To be confident you do not have COVID-19, FDA recommends two negative antigen tests for individuals with symptoms or three antigen tests for those without symptoms, performed 48 hours apart,” the CDC states.
PCR tests are more likely to detect the virus than antigen tests, but you will need to go to be seen by a healthcare provider for testing and results could take up to three days.
How long should I isolate or stay home from school/work?
The CDC has a tool to determine whether to isolate if you have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed.
If you test positive but have no symptoms, you should isolate for five days and can return to work or school on the sixth day. The CDC recommends you wear a high-quality mask around other people for three days after returning to work or school unless you test negative twice within 48 hours following your five-day isolation.
If you test positive and you do have symptoms, you can leave your home five days after you no longer have a fever (without the use of any fever-reducing medications) and then you should wear a high-quality mask for three days.
If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you’ve had COVID-19 yourself in the last 90 days, the CDC says you do not need to stay home unless you develop symptoms. You should wear a mask for about 10 days.
If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you have not had COVID-19 yourself in the last 90 days, you also don’t need to stay home unless you develop symptoms, but you should get tested on or after the sixth day following exposure to make sure you’re not positive for the virus. It’s also recommended that you wear a mask for 10 days.
Here are some other general recommendations from the CDC:
- Get your COVID-19 vaccines, as recommended
- Stay home if you are sick
- Get tested for COVID-19, if needed
- Seek treatment if you have COVID-19 and are at high risk of getting very sick
- If you choose to wear a mask, wear a high-quality one that fits well over your nose and mouth
- Improve ventilation
- Wash your hands
In addition to the guidance on isolating, there are some other things you can do to help prevent the spread of the virus in your household if one of you were to get sick.
The CDC recommends improving ventilation and filtration where the infected person is. Here is a list, provided by the CDC, of things you can try:
- Bringing in as much outdoor air as possible—for example, opening windows.
- Increasing air filtration in your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, such as by changing filters frequently and using filters that are properly fitted and provide higher filtration.
- Using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners.
- Turning on exhaust fans and using other fans to improve airflow.
- Turning your thermostat to the “ON” position instead of “AUTO” to ensure your HVAC system provides continuous airflow and filtration.
The COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t just a one-and-done deal. Just like seasonal flu, it will be updated each year to provide protection against the latest strains.
The new COVID-19 vaccine is expected around mid-September, University Health Communications Director Elizabeth Allen said.
The updated vaccines contain one version of the omicron strain, called XBB.1.5. It’s an important change from today’s combination shots, which mix the original coronavirus strain with last year’s most common omicron variants.
This is another topic that has become divisive in the wake of the pandemic.
But — it’s still a recommended practice for people who have recently had COVID-19 or have been exposed. Mask-wearing can help keep you from spreading the virus to others.
As for wearing a mask in public places to prevent yourself from becoming sick — Allen said it’s not a bad idea if you are older, at risk for severe illness, or immunocompromised.
In Texas, Senate Bill 29, which takes effect on Sept. 1, prohibits local governments from requiring COVID-related masks, vaccines or business shutdowns, so don’t expect any new mandates. But there is nothing keeping you from wearing a mask if you choose.
Treatments and Medications
The CDC recommends contacting your healthcare provider right away to determine the best treatment.
The options include:
- Oral antiviral treatments, including Paxlovid and Lagevrio. Antiviral treatments must be started as soon as possible and no later than five days after symptoms first appear. Paxlovid is approved for people 12 years of age and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and who are at high risk for severe illness. Lagevrio is approved for adults 18 years and older who are at high risk for severe illness.
- Intravenous infusions of Remdesivir (Veklury) can be given to high-risk patients at a healthcare facility.
- Convalescent Plasma uses blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to give antibodies to someone who is fighting the illness.
If you don’t have a healthcare provider, you can check the online Treatment Locator to find one.