What precautions should you take when using Covid-19?


Covid-19 cases are on the rise again. Infections have increased by more than 50% compared to the previous week in at least eight U.S. states. Parts of New York have moved to the “high” Covid-19 community-level designation, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics.

The increase in the United States appears to be driven by the new BA.2.12.1 variant, a branch of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. Meanwhile, South Africa is facing its own wave of Covid-19, driven by two more Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5.

What should people know about these new subvariants, especially since many come together for celebrations like Mother’s Day and graduations? What kind of precautions should they take? How can people assess their own risk and are there some meetings that people have to skip?

To guide us through these questions, I spoke with CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health. George Washington University. She is also the author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health” and is the mother of two young children.

CNN: What can you tell us about these new Omicron sub-variants?

Dr. Leana Wen: We know that the original Omicron variant was already more transmissible than previous variants such as the Delta variant. People infected with Omicron tend to have a milder illness than those infected with Delta. And while vaccines are less effective against Omicron than some previous variants, vaccines and enhancements still offer excellent protection against serious illness due to Omicron.

The same seems to be the case with these new Omicron sub-variants. There is no evidence that they cause more serious illness, and vaccination and booster care are still the best form of protection against serious illness. However, they appear to be even more transmissible than the original Omicron BA.1, which means that avoiding coronavirus is even more difficult than before.

CNN: Do these new subvariants still extend the same way?

Wen: Yes. As a reminder, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is a respiratory virus that can be transmitted by close contact and by the airway. If you are around an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, these particles could be transmitted to you.

Also, because Covid-19 is transmitted by air, it can only be transmitted by someone who is breathing or speaking. There is also the theoretical possibility of superficial transmission, meaning that if someone who is infected touches a doorknob, touches it and then touches your nose or mouth, you could be infected.

This means that the precautions we have been talking about all along continue to work to prevent Covid-19 infection. Masking reduces the likelihood of inhaling aerosols or other particles expelled by another person, and the type of mask really matters.

These new variants are so contagious that a cloth mask is not enough. You should really wear a high quality respirator, such as an N95, KN95 or KF94. Make sure the mask fits snugly. Adults who cannot tolerate these masks or children too young to wear these masks should wear at least a 3-layer surgical mask. To ensure a better fit, they could also wear a fabric mask on top.

Ventilation is also key. The outside is still much safer than the inside. And inside, there is a big difference between a large room with open windows and a lot of space compared to a small enclosed area where people crowd.

And don’t forget to wash your hands. Effective hand washing with soap and water not only protects against coronavirus but also against other pathogens.

CNN: What kind of precautions should be taken pdo people take it when they go to graduation parties, Mother’s Day celebrations and other events?

Wen: There are three main types of precautions: vaccines, testing, and masking. How much you decide to take depends on your medical circumstances, the level of Covid-19 in your community, and your own risk calculation for how much you want to keep avoiding Covid-19.

First, let’s talk about the three precautions. Vaccines and booster protect very well against serious diseases. They also reduce the chance of infection. Make sure you are up to date with your reinforcement, including the decision on a second reinforcement if you are eligible.

Doing a quick test at home just before meetings can also reduce the risk. These tests measure the infection you are having at the time, so they should be done as close to the meeting as possible. Having a negative test three days ago just says you don’t have enough Covid-19 at the time to take the test; it does not say that you are not contagious now. If everyone takes a negative test just before they meet, this also reduces the risk.

Of course, masking also reduces the risk. I don’t think it’s very practical to ask people to come together for dinner mask, and many social events involving food and drink can’t realistically enforce the mask. But if you are a person at high risk for serious Covid-19 disease and you really want to avoid coronavirus, it is always an option that you will mask even when others around you are not.

You could attend a graduation ceremony with an N95 mask or high quality mask. You can go to the front desk after where others eat and drink, but decide not to. And you can only choose to go to a small Mother’s Day reunion with the family nearby, all of whom are cautious and put to the test just before, instead of a big party.

I think it’s important for everyone to think about masking themselves in high-risk environments, for example, crowded airports and train stations, as recommended by the CDC. This reduces the chance of getting infected in these environments and then having to miss graduation or other events of great value to you.

CNN: Would you recommend that events have vaccine and testing requirements?

Wen: It depends on the event. If it’s outdoors, I don’t think either requirement is necessary. Crowded indoor events, especially in areas with a higher Covid-19 transmission, should be considered to require vaccination testing and, ideally, reinforcements. Testing on the same day also reduces the risk.

If you are at high risk for complications from Covid-19 or if you really do not want to get the coronavirus, you may want to take extra precautions. Wear a mask, as I mentioned earlier, and omit events inside with food and drink unless you’re okay with giving up food and drink and masking yourself all the time. Create a plan in advance, including the option to leave if you feel uncomfortable.

I also advise people that every time you partner with others, you run the risk of getting Covid-19. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to have a meeting. This means that you should be aware of your risk and think in advance about how much you want to continue to avoid coronavirus. If you want to avoid this, take extra precautions. Be aware that new and even more contagious variants make it even harder to avoid coronavirus than before.

Some people may decide that they really want to attend a higher risk event despite the risks. If this is the case, the test should be done three days after the event and definitely before visiting immunocompromised family members. Also, let us know in advance if you are eligible for treatments such as antiviral pills.

At this time of the pandemic, it is unrealistic to tell people to avoid meetings. But we can help people to understand and weigh their own risks, and also to take precautions both at events and afterwards to reduce the risk to themselves and others around them.

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