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COVID UPDATE: Six things to know now


The threat has changed over time, but it’s still out there

COVID-19 isn’t new – we’ve been living with it for close to 4 years now. But it’s not over, either. COVID is something we have to live with and watch out for, indefinitely. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your family right now:

Yes, COVID is definitely surging—and the surge is bigger than it seems. 

All the available data, from wastewater analysis to volume of hospitalizations and deaths, indicate that COVID cases are on the rise. But the prevalence of at-home testing and the public’s increased comfort with COVID means that many COVID cases are not reported at all. In other words, if someone tests positive at home, they’ll tell their boss they can’t come in because they have the virus, but they won’t seek medical attention and treat their symptoms at home with over-the-counter medicines.

For some, COVID now looks much different than it did before. 

Although the virus is prevalent, the intense symptoms, including the loss of sense of smell and taste, are less common. Someone infected with COVID right now might only experience congestion, sneezing, and a mild sore throat in fact, doctors often can't tell the difference between COVID and allergies or the common cold without administering a COVID test. While many people are getting a milder form of COVID, some aren't, and long COVID remains a risk as well. So while a case of COVID may look like benign allergies or a cold, it is neither.

With new variants on the rise, you should still get vaccines and boosters. 

The variants, with their strange letter/number names, are hard for the average person to keep track of — that's why we have scientists on the case. Drug manufacturers are working with the CDC to track the constant surges and the mutations, and adjusting vaccines to counter the new threats. In early September, the FDA approved updated versions of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to target the XBB.15 variant that, according to an CNBC report, have proven to be effective against the dominant EG.5, or “Eris,” variant, as well as FL.1.5.1, which is spreading rapidly. Evidence suggests the new shots will also protect against BA.2.8.6, which the CDC is currently monitoring. Three weeks later, the FDA approved an updated Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

Confused by the variant-name soup? You don’t have to be. The latest vaccines and boosters being offered are the best defense against whatever is developing.

The COVID tests you got a year ago may still work — here's how to know.

If you got COVID tests some time ago but stored them away for the summer, they may be past the use-by date listed on the packaging. But the FDA is issuing revised, extended dates for many popular home tests. So don’t throw out those “expired” testing kits just yet. Check the list of updated expiration dates on the FDA’s website; the at-home test you already own may still be accurate.

Mandate or not, masking up may be the right thing to do. 

To mask or not to mask — it's again becoming a hot and much-debated question. But the fact remains that with surges and variants, masking might be the prudent thing to do in some situations. While some mask mandates have been put into effect, they are not widespread, and may not last long. When considering mask use, think about the circumstances. Do you possibly have COVID, the flu, RSV or some other transmittable respiratory illness?  Do you, any family members, or other people you regularly come in contact with have a weakened immune system or are they at risk of getting very sick from COVID? These and other conditions may make masking a good idea to prevent catching and spreading the virus.

When should you isolate? There's a tool for that. 

If you've been exposed to COVID, or tested positive, you may need to isolate yourself to avoid passing the virus to others. Your course of action depends on a few factors – and the CDC has an online tool that can help you figure it out.

If you have questions about COVID, seek advice from a medical professional.

Horizon Health News is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.