The World Health Organization has recently extended the COVID-19 global health emergency for the next three months. While entering the fourth year of the pandemic, it may be tempting to brush off COVID-19 as a cold, but it’s important to remember that this is a dangerous illness that needs to be monitored and taken seriously.
That said, it can be challenging to determine whether you have COVID-19, the flu, or the common cold as different variants come to the forefront of the pandemic with varying symptoms, and at-home rapid COVID testing that shows up negative can’t always be trusted.
With that in mind, it’s important to do what you can to protect friends, family, and yourself from COVID-19 by reducing the spread. Here’s what you can do to stay protected against new variants.
Know the Newest Variants
While keeping up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 variants may seem overwhelming, it’s good to know which is the dominant variant in your area and nationwide so you know which symptoms to be on the lookout for. The currently dominant variant across the U.S. is XBB.1.5. This variant makes up 66% of current COVID-19 cases, according to Nebraska Medicine. The next most common variant is BQ.1.1, making up 20% of cases nationwide. Most of these variants are variations of the Omicron variant.
The reason why it’s important to know these variants is that symptoms can differ. For example, during the first year of COVID-19, the most common symptoms included sore throat, cough, fever, and loss of taste and smell. The symptoms of the most current variants include cough, congestion, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, etc. While the loss of taste and smell can still happen with the latest variants, it’s rarer than it was before.
Another reason why it’s important to know the latest variants is that you can stay up-to-date with which variants the latest COVID-19 vaccine booster can help protect you against. The latest boosters have shown promising results, helping Americans fight back against Omicron variants and reduce life-threatening symptoms.
If you haven’t yet made an appointment to receive your COVID-19 booster or your COVID-19 vaccine, consider making an appointment with your primary care doctor, local health services, or your local walk-in urgent care. In addition to your COVID-19 vaccines, it can also help to receive your flu vaccine. According to Medical News Today, the flu vaccine can reduce flu risk between 40-60% if the vaccine is matched to circulating viruses. While the flu vaccine may not help protect you against COVID-19, it can reduce your risk of getting the flu and may make it easier to determine whether you’ve been infected with the flu or COVID-19.
While mask mandates have been dropped throughout the United States, it’s recommended that you continue to wear a mask to protect yourself and others against the spread of COVID-19. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, COVID-19 can spread through air droplets released from the mouth and nose, which can transmit at distances even greater than six feet from the infected person. The particles can also linger in an indoor space after an infected person has left the room.
Avoid wearing masks that are loosely woven and don’t fit well on the face. Instead, opt for well-fitting, layered masks with tightly woven materials. The best possible masks you can wear include KN95s, N95s, and disposable surgical masks.
Opt for Professional COVID-19 Testing
While at-home rapid COVID testing can be convenient, it’s important that you don’t rely on them heavily if they show that you’ve tested negative. False negatives are more common than false positives, and at-home rapid COVID testing may not be as effective as a professional test. If you’re experiencing COVID symptoms and you’re looking to receive testing, it’s recommended that you visit your local urgent care or see a medical professional for a PCR test.
PCR tests are similar to rapid COVID testing, but they’re considered the gold standard in testing because they’re less likely to produce a false negative. Care Station Medical Group provides both COVID-19 antigen and antibody testing, so you can feel confident in your test results.
Some of the key ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the latest COVID-19 variants include staying up-to-date with the latest news, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and receiving professional testing. Of course, it’s always important to remember to wash your hands!
If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and you’re looking for a PCR test or professionally administered rapid COVID testing or you’re interested in scheduling a COVID-19 vaccine, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Care Station Medical Group today.