COVID cases and hospitalizations are again on the rise in the U.S., causing many to ask if we’re in for a repeat of last year, when Omicron wreaked havoc on the holiday season.
“The only honest answer I can give you is, ‘I don’t know’,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, tells Yahoo Life. “And no one does. I don’t think anybody can predict anything more than a couple weeks out at most.”
While some experts are predicting a more mild winter in terms of COVID cases than in years past, experts say that doesn’t mean you should let down your guard completely — especially given that reported COVID cases and hospitalizations have climbed by more than 25 percent in recent weeks, and test positivity rates are rising at a rapid pace.
So how can you protect yourself and your family from COVID this winter season? Here’s what some experts say.
Make sure your vaccines are up to date
Blood-test data shows that nearly all Americans now have at least some immunity against the virus either through prior infections or vaccinations. However, doctors say getting fully vaccinated is still your best defense. “Getting a bivalent vaccine dose right now is as important as it can be,” says Osterholm. “Right now, only about 12.1% of individuals five years of age and older who are eligible for the bivalent have gotten it. The vaccines can’t do any benefit if they’re not in somebody’s arm.”
The new boosters are labeled bivalent because they protect against both the original virus that causes COVID and the Omicron subvariants BA.5 and BA.4. Staying up to date on your vaccines “significantly lowers the risk of getting very sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, a new study shows that from December 2020 to November 2022, COVID-19 vaccines kept more than 18 million people out of the hospital and saved more than 3 million lives.
Dr. Vandana Madhavan, director of advanced pediatrics at Mass General Brigham in Boston, tells Yahoo Life there’s another reason you want to avoid severe COVID illness. “The Omicron subvariants that are becoming a larger proportion of the COVID cases that we’re seeing are becoming more resistant to the monoclonal antibody that’s given as early treatment,” she says. “It’s limiting our treatment options to the oral antivirals and to a three-day course of the intravenous antiviral remdesivir for people at higher risk. So we’re already seeing that new variants are affecting our toolkit, and we don’t know what’s in store.”
Mask up when needed
Due to the rising cases, health officials are again recommending the wearing of a high-quality mask while indoors. “I think it’s a good idea to wear masks anytime you know you will be in contact with a larger number of people,” Dr. Andy Pekosz, a virologist and vice chair of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Life. “Buses, airlines, even classrooms are all situations where you’ll be in close contact for long periods of time — greater than 15 or 20 minutes — with a large number of people in an indoor or more confined space.”
Madhavan says there may be other situations where you may want to proactively mask up. “People might independently choose as families to wear masks to keep themselves well before a milestone family gathering or wedding or event to make sure they remain healthy,” she says. Madhavan also notes that mask wearing not only prevents the transmission of COVID, but also flu and other respiratory viruses that are spread through droplets.
Know when to test
If you think you have COVID or you have been exposed to someone with COVID, it’s best to test. “COVID-19 home tests are available,” says Pekosz. In fact, the Biden administration announced on Dec. 15 that they are bringing back free at-home COVID tests. Every U.S. household is eligible to order four at-home COVID-19 tests at no cost.
The CDC also recommends testing before gathering indoors or visiting people who are at high risk for severe COVID, such as the elderly or someone who is pregnant or immunodeficient. “If you are feeling any kind of respiratory symptoms, scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, it’s best to stay home even if you have a negative COVID-19 test,” says Pekosz.
Take it outside when possible
According to the CDC, “You are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 during outdoor activities because virus particles do not build up in the air outdoors as much as they do indoors.” However, with colder temperatures, as well as winter storms, it can be hard to imagine spending time outdoors right now. But many restaurants and hotels provide outdoor dining experiences with heaters that protect diners from the elements. “If you’re at high risk for serious illness, you can still do a lot to protect yourself,” Osterholm says. “You do not have to be someone who’s imprisoned in your own home.”
Regardless of how you choose to protect yourself this season, Osterholm says that it’s important to stay vigilant and remember that COVID is still a deadly virus. “Imagine if three years ago we had a brand-new form of cancer arise and we said, ‘Oh, about 325 to 340 people are going to die every day from it.’ There would’ve been a major outcry, right?” Osterholm says. “Now we’ve become so used to this because it’s not 2,000 or 3,000 people a day dying. But 325 people a day is still a lot of people.”
Culled from Yahoo News. Click here for the link to the story https://www.aol.com/lifestyle/protect-yourself-family-covid-winter-010829375.html