What to know now about COVID as it rises again: ‘These case numbers are a severe undercount’


Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg via Getty COVID test

It’s become an unsettling and familiar refrain, but COVID-19 is on the rise again in the US After omicron’s major spike in the winter months, the variant mutated – twice, to BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 – and both are spreading rapidly across the country.

This time, however, the United States reacts differently. Mask mandates and mitigation efforts have largely disappeared and positive tests are often done at home with rapid antigen tests, meaning they are rarely reported to health services. This catches much of the country off guard in the face of the outbreak.

“To state the obvious, the pandemic is not over,” Jessica Malaty Rivera, an infectious disease epidemiologist and senior adviser at the Pandemic Prevention Institute, told PEOPLE.

RELATED: COVID cases rise again with new Omicron BA.2.12.1 subvariant

Here, Rivera shares what to know about the current state of the pandemic and why it’s time to resume mitigation efforts.

It looks like COVID-19 is much more rampant than anyone realizes. Is that the case?

I think people are aware, but I think there’s this cognitive dissonance that happens because a lot of people got over it. We are dealing with these variants because omicron has evolved a lot. Is it just different? No, but it does cause some dynamics, which is a lot of people getting sick and a lot of people getting re-infected.

We’re also operating with more blind spots now than before, because we’re not testing as much. And I would say that we have probably never tested enough since the beginning of the pandemic, but we are certainly not testing enough now. These case numbers are a serious undercount because most people do not receive their reported positive cases from the sources that provide these national case numbers.

Should people be more careful now?

I encourage my family and community to continue layering high-quality masks indoors and avoid unnecessary high-risk things like indoor dining and indoor activities unless it is is absolutely necessary. I think it’s important for people to remember that surges don’t last forever and that public health mitigation works best when you think of each method as a layer of protection.

RELATED: FDA grants emergency use authorization for Pfizer COVID Booster for children ages 5-11

It is also vital that people are vaccinated and boosted. We’re not even 70% fully vaccinated, and we’re not even 40% boosted for eligible people. And we know the booster data is pretty compelling on what it can do to protect you against omicron and its sub-variants. Vaccines aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing – boosters are really important.



Getty A child receiving a dose of COVID-19 vaccine

There seems to be a feeling that everyone is going to get it now – should we just give in to that?

Certainly not. Although statistically speaking anyone can have an encounter with the virus and possible infection with the virus, you still want to avoid it because there are still so many unknowns about who has long COVID and who does not. not. We can’t say with uncertainty who has long COVID and who doesn’t. And I think that’s too much of a risk factor for people to play this game.

Can people get omicron multiple times?

Yes. Many people got sick during the winter surge, and we are now 90 days away from many people being re-infected. Breakthrough infections shouldn’t come as a surprise, but vaccines still do their job of keeping people out of hospital and keeping them alive.

RELATED: Nearly 60% of Americans — and 3 in 4 children — have now had COVID, CDC says

Three months of immunity is not a strict rule. It is statistically more likely that you will not be infected again in a few months, but that could also change again, depending on the dynamics of the evolution of these viruses.

Are the symptoms different between omicron strains or are they similar?

They are quite similar. This new subvariant, BA.2.12.1, manifests like a cold, and one of the most characteristic symptoms is a runny nose, while with the original omicron a sore throat was among the first signs of infection. But not everyone experiences the infection in the same way.

When can people with COVID come out of isolation?

Neither five days nor 10 days are perfect estimates. Once they’re negative on a rapid antigen test for at least two consecutive days, 24 hours apart, and they’re asymptomatic – not resolving symptoms, no asymptomatic mild symptoms – then that’s the appropriate time to leave isolation.

Paxlovid [the FDA approved COVID treatment] kinda changed the game a bit because it allows people to see their symptoms resolved as soon as one to two days after starting their treatment and even have a negative PCR test, which is pretty remarkable in all three four days after their treatment. It’s a five day treatment, so if you test positive I think it’s really important to talk to your doctor to see if you’re eligible to get a prescription as soon as possible, to start as soon as possible in your infection.

RELATED VIDEO: Here are some debunking facts about COVID-19 vaccines

If someone is eligible for the fourth dose but recently had COVID, should they get the fourth dose now or wait?

If they are in the eligible group, they should get it as soon as possible, because we know that vaccines provide much stronger protection than a recent infection.

Would we be here if more people had been vaccinated? Or is it rather a question of global vaccination rates?

It’s both, but I really think it’s very concerning that as a country we haven’t yet reached that 70% vaccination rate and we were hoping to reach 70% in June or July of the last year. Which is just deeply depressing.

RELATED: COVID vaccinations could have saved an estimated 234,000 American lives in 2021

Later variants have all been omicron releases. Are there any new or non-omicron variants popping up?

It’s possible we’ll see more omicron subtypes in the future. I am grateful to the scientists in South Africa who are doing a remarkable job of isolating and sequencing the variants. There are some interesting variants that are being studied and I’m monitoring them too, but nothing has been identified as a variant of concern by the WHO. But that can change from day to day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.