Case positively (the number of positive tests of all the test results reported not including in-home tests) is still 37.8%, an alarming percentage, and the number of COVID hospitalizations remains extremely high. Although the omicron variant is seemingly less severe, particularly in fully vaccinated individuals, the astounding number of cases recently diagnosed (with a small percentage still getting very ill) has filled up the hospitals and a high percentage of all ICU beds. We learned this week that monoclonal antibody treatments, which were effective in treating people infected with previous COVID variants, are not effective against the omicron variant; consequently this option for treatment has been rescinded in North Carolina’s guidance for healthcare providers—yet another reason to vaccinate and to prevent transmission of the virus.
Vaccines are your best protection against serious COVID disease, hospitalization, and death. They also reduce the likelihood that you will transmit the virus to others. They are available in most pharmacies and in community clinics, free of charge, for those 5 years of age and older. Boosters are available, also free of charge, for those 12 years of age and older; the latest guidance recommends a booster 5 months or more after completion of the initial vaccine series. Immunocompromised children ages 5-11 may now be eligible for boosters as well. Parents who are concerned about reports of myocarditis associated with the vaccine should know that children are more at risk of myocarditis after multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a serious illness from COVID-19 infection, than after the vaccine. We concur with the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, urging vaccination and boosters for all those who are eligible. You can obtain the flu shot at the same time! Please do your part to keep our community healthy and to keep our healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed.
Breakthrough infections are possible, even in vaccinated people. Some of these cases can even result in hospitalization. We urge the use of masks and social distancing indoors whenever you are exposed to those who are unvaccinated or those of unknown vaccination status, whether in private or public settings. Double masks are more effective than a single mask(cloth over surgical style mask is a popular configuration to enhance the closeness of fit ); N95 and KN95 masks appear to offer the best protection. Eating and singing together indoors are particularly high-risk activities. For vaccinated people who gather indoors, particularly if they will be unmasking to eat, testing for the COVID antigen immediately before gathering may add some measure of assurance that someone is not unknowingly infected with COVID and thus capable of spreading the virus. When a gathering includes high-risk individuals—elderly, pregnant, immunocompromised, or unvaccinated people (eg, children under age 5) or partially vaccinated people—testing for COVID before gathering becomes more important. It will be necessary to make appointments well in advance if you plan to use a pharmacy for PCR testing (the most sensitive) prior to an event. Home antigen test kits are available in some pharmacies and big box stores (eg, Abbott’s BinaxNow), to keep on hand for the times they are needed; however, these are currently in short supply. Starting last week antigen (rapid) test kits can be very easily ordered through covidtests.gov. Please note that antigen tests typically do not become positive until 3-5 days after exposure and may miss some contagious individuals that a PCR test would identify in this early period; however, a negative antigen test 6 days after the most recent exposure is more reassuring. A positive antigen test, on the other hand, likely means someone has a contagious COVID infection, while PCR tests can remain positive after infection, even beyond the contagious period.
The next meeting of our COVID Medical Advisory Group will be on February 1 at 1:00 pm. Please contact Kat Rice, Jennifer Schaal, or Janie Foy if you have any questions for the group or requests for COVID-related guidance related to proposed activities.