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Are we tired of Covid-19? Mask up, don’t let your guard down yet

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The United States is experiencing another coronavirus surge, this time thanks to the omicron BA.5 sub-variant. Scientists warn that the new subvariant appears to be the most transmissible version of the virus to date, and it re-infects people who have already dealt with previous variants once or twice, sometimes as little as a few weeks ago.

A small percentage of people who have avoided Covid-19 for 2.5 years are also finding that BA.5 has ways to bypass their protections. Even President Joe Biden, who managed to avoid infection, tested positive on Thursday. Like many Americans, Biden and his aides have let their guard down, easing the stringent Covid-19 precautions previously in place at the White House.

Everyone just wants to get back to normal, even though polls show few Americans are sure what life with Covid-19 should really look like. Most cities are unlikely to bring back mandatory masks or other protective measures previously in place during the pandemic, or even during the initial omicron surge.

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“We’ve had a shift in our baseline,” said Michael Osterholm, public health researcher and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Hospitalizations have roughly doubled since May, and more than 400 Americans die each day, but those numbers are well below the peak of the winter omicron wave.

“Previously, during a pandemic, we would never have accepted these numbers,” Osterholm said.

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There is also the possibility of developing symptoms of prolonged Covid-19, which researchers are trying to fully understand. However, experts are weighing these concerns.

“We can live our lives knowing very well that this risk exists,” said Dien Ho, a bioethicist at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

The question is what public health measures should be a priority for the country. And what can you do individually to reduce your risk of infection, slow down the relentless cycle of new options, and minimize the disruption to daily life? Here are five steps to take if you haven’t already.

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Make the most of your vaccines and boosters

If you haven’t received a booster dose or no shots at all, experts say the current surge is a good reason to make an appointment now. Vaccines provide excellent protection against serious diseases, and booster shots can enhance these benefits. But less than half of Americans have received a booster, and less than one-third of adults who qualify for a second booster (or fourth injection) — those who are immunocompromised or over 50 — have received it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s use of the term “fully vaccinated” to describe the first two doses of vaccines early in the pandemic did not help. While the agency has since moved on to requiring people to be “up to date” with all their vaccinations, the early use of “fully vaccinated” has sadly stuck.

“A lot of people say, ‘I took two shots and it’s done,'” Osterholm said.

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Some people may also be discouraged by the new study, which shows that immunity against infection declines significantly within three months, and the newest omicron subvariants are much better at evading immunity than earlier versions of the virus, Osterholm added.

New vaccines more focused on omicron sub-variants are likely to arrive in the fall, and the Biden administration is considering expanding eligibility for boosters. But if you are in a high-risk group that is eligible for second boosters, you should not try to time your shots. According to the CDC, getting vaccinated now “will not prevent you from getting an approved vaccine against a particular variant in the fall or winter when it’s recommended for you.”

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Find your new Covid-19 indicators in the community.

You should keep an eye on Covid-19 statistics to determine your own risk and decide when to add extra layers of protection. For much of the pandemic, the CDC color-coded community-level risk map has been a good indicator of cases and transmission rates. But the agency has recently changed the way it calculates these risk levels to put more emphasis on local hospitalization rates.

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The number of cases no longer matches the number of hospitalizations due to a combination of natural or vaccine immunity, home testing and available treatments, making it difficult to track the virus in real time. Instead, experts recommend using other ways to stay on top of Covid-19 risks in your community: check local news and connect to your 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 know anyone who has or has recently had Covid-19, said Ajay Seti, a public health researcher at University of New York. Wisconsin-Madison. Since you are more likely to interact with people in your network, you will be able to better understand the incidence in your community and learn what your own risk of getting sick might be.

When more of your close contacts become infected with Covid-19, or become infected more frequently, as many people across the country are now, it is a good indicator that you and your peers should start wearing masks and adding more Covid-19 protection.

According to Sethi, some people may be hesitant to come forward about having the virus, either because they feel like outcasts, or are embarrassed that they have contracted it, or know how the stigma is related to having it. there are relatives with different pandemic ideologies. But “it’s kind of the opposite of what we need to do,” he said.

Disguise yourself, and not just indoors.

Wear quality masks in public places where you need to protect yourself, whether you are infected with Covid-19 or not. Each infection can still carry the risk of developing debilitating long-term symptoms of Covid-19, said Caitlin Rivers, a public health researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“For me, the thought process hasn’t changed much,” Rivers said. “I continue to wear a mask when I’m indoors and try to do as many outdoor activities as possible.”

Other experts agree that if you want to go without a mask, the air outside will be significantly safer than indoors. But even outdoors, the closer people are to each other, the higher the risk of catching the virus.

“As contagious as BA.5 is, we have to recognize that it’s important that you are not crowded with limited air access,” Osterholm said.

For example, if you are hosting a summer barbecue, you may want to invite fewer guests to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. You can also check if everyone is vaccinated and has recently tested negative. At large gatherings, such as outdoor concerts or weddings, where you have less control, you should wear a mask and monitor yourself for new symptoms for a few days afterward, according to Osterholm.

Keep rapid tests handy and use them

Rapid tests are an effective tool to combat the spread of Covid-19 if you use them regularly. According to the Network, if you’re only testing after a potential exposure, then you’re doing it wrong. Instead, plan social events by checking in before and three to five days after large gatherings to better protect yourself and those you meet, he said.

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Keep rapid tests at home, especially if you don’t have access to a public testing site or tests at your workplace, said Alyssa Bilinsky, a health policy expert at Brown University. Each family can order three rounds of free tests from the government, for a total of 16 tests. People with insurance can also be reimbursed for eight free tests per month.

Just remember that you can still test negative even if you have Covid-19 symptoms, Sethi said. Quarantine if you think you might be sick. Test again a day or two after getting a negative result to be sure. And if you have Covid-19, get tested after your symptoms ease or even disappear. A positive antigen test is a fairly reliable sign that you are still contagious, even if your symptoms have eased or disappeared.

When people don’t use them often enough, the rapid tests are less useful from a public health standpoint, the Network says.

If you are traveling, find out how to get treatment
Before leaving, prepare yourself for the possibility of becoming infected while traveling.

“It’s a good idea to take a printed list of all your current medications, your medical history and vaccinations, and your doctor’s contact information with you when you travel, in case you need to seek medical attention while traveling,” said Dr. Annie Lutkemeyer, professor infectious diseases. diseases at the University of California, San Francisco.

Leave enough space on your credit card and read your health and travel insurance policies carefully to see what costs they will cover if you have to extend your trip due to Covid-19. And do a little research on clinics and pharmacies in your destination.

While you cannot get Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment for Covid-19, without a prior diagnosis, you can use the Test to Treat locator to find places where testing and immediate treatment is available in the United States. Pharmacists can also prescribe Paxlovid directly to patients who test positive but are unable to contact a healthcare provider, said Kuldip Patel, senior assistant chief pharmacist at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina.

However, outside the United States, the availability of treatment will depend on where you are. Both Paxlovid and another antiviral drug called molnupiravir are on the World Health Organization’s list of recommended drugs for the treatment of Covid-19 and have been approved for use in several countries.

But you can also avoid the uncertainty of finding medicines abroad. If you’re at high risk for complications from Covid-19, or may be immunocompromised and at risk of reduced vaccine effectiveness, you might want to talk to your doctor about Evusheld monoclonal antibody treatment before you travel, Lutkemeier said. You can also bring over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough drops, and throat lozenges to help relieve symptoms if you get sick.

You can choose which steps will reduce the most harm right now, and those calculations can be different for different people. The country is “struggling to change what Covid risk looks like,” Bilinski said. But this does not mean that we should completely abandon the measures that will ensure our safety, she added. The BA.5 surge may be a reminder that there is a middle ground between dominating Covid-19 precautions in your life and pretending the pandemic is over.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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