Health Conditions / Infectious Diseases / COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Study: COVID Reinfection Boosts Risk of Long COVID, Health Complications

Study: COVID Reinfection Boosts Risk of Long COVID, Health Complications

The potential risks of COVID reinfection are very real, regardless of your vaccination status, new research suggests. Having COVID more than once boosts your risk of hospitalization, developing long COVID, or even dying from the virus, according to a large new study published in the journal Nature Medicine.The goal of the research was to determine whether the risk of complications goes up the more you’re infected with the virus, according to lead study author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, assistant professor at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “The answer is absolutely yes,” he tells SELF.For the study, Dr. Al-Aly’s team used data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The researchers included 519,767 people who were initially infected and tested positive for COVID between March 1, 2020, and April 6, 2022. Of those people, 40,947 were reinfected between June 1, 2020, and June 25, 2022. The infected and reinfected groups were compared to a control group of more than 5.3 million people.What they concluded is harrowing: People who are infected with COVID two or more times are twice as likely to die for any reason; three times as likely to need hospitalization; three times as likely to have lung problems; three times as likely to have cardiovascular problems; and three times as likely to have a blood clot. They’re also more likely to experience fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disorders, mental health disorders, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, and neurological disorders. The risk of developing complications from COVID is likely highest during the first 30 days of the infection, Dr. Al-Aly says.It could be that some people’s risk of these complications is higher than others, but Dr. Al-Aly’s team didn’t do subgroup analyses, he says—meaning, experts don’t yet know if these health issues are more or less of a threat to certain people after reinfection. Regardless, the study underscores that everyone should be especially cautious of long COVID symptoms after testing positive for the virus, especially after a reinfection, Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF.While more research needs to be done, the study helps solidify what doctors and scientists have been trying to communicate for years now, Dr. Al-Aly says: “COVID is absolutely not a common cold, not even a flu. This is far more serious than that,” he explains. “If you had it before, you’re not sealed from adverse events.”Though the study included a large number of people, it’s worth mentioning that the participant pool may not reflect the diversity in the US (or the world), Dr. Russo says, since people in the VA database are more likely to be cis men and have underlying health problems. Only about 10% of study participants were women, and they weren’t divided into subgroups by age, race, or sex assigned at birth. The study authors also acknowledged that the way we think about reinfections will likely change as more research on the topic is explored.

How an ‘Immunity Gap’ May Be Fueling a Spike in Respiratory Illnesses

How an ‘Immunity Gap’ May Be Fueling a Spike in Respiratory Illnesses

This winter is shaping up to be a wild one: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is surging in young children, the flu ramped up early in many parts of the country, and chances are you or someone you know has already suffered through an especially nasty cold, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Many of the respiratory viruses that were in a bit of a lull over the past two years seem to be coming back in full force—and experts say we may have an “immunity gap” to blame for that.An immunity gap can develop when your immune system essentially gets a break from being exposed to a mix of common pathogens—bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that can cause illness—in your environment, Aimee Bernard, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, tells SELF.When you’re out and about—say, going to school, work, the gym, or restaurants—you come in contact with all types of pathogens that generally help keep your immune system on high alert and ready to protect you from infectious diseases.But during the height of the pandemic, much of the country took critical public health precautions—like masking, social distancing, and working and studying remotely, among others—to help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. It makes sense, then, that our immune systems had less exposure to other infectious pathogens in recent years too, and therefore are slightly less prepared to take them on now, as they start to circulate widely.That’s one possible reason why many respiratory viruses are surging atypically right now, Dr. Bernard says. She likens an immunity gap to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which posits that overly-sterile environments (a.k.a., super clean) “fail to provide the necessary exposure to germs required to ‘educate’ the immune system so it can learn to launch its defense responses,” as the US Food and Drug Administration notes.What, specifically, all of this might mean for this year’s cold and flu season has yet to be seen, but Dr. Bernard believes it’s possible that the country is going to experience a stronger uptick in hospitalizations related to infectious diseases than usual. Some areas are already seeing this unfold: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, for example, confirmed its pediatric unit is so overwhelmed with RSV and other respiratory illnesses, it’s considering working with the National Guard and FEMA to potentially set up a field tent to handle the swell of patients. (If you’re taking care of a young child, here’s more information about how RSV can affect kids.)Who will be most affected by immunity gaps is a bit less clear, mainly because immunity gaps in specific groups of people haven’t been closely studied, since there hasn’t been a global pandemic in recent history. Experts know that we develop an immune “memory” of sorts after being infected with influenza, for instance, which can help soften the blow of future infections—so many people are likely more vulnerable right now due to the historically quiet 2020 and 2021 flu seasons. According to Dr. Bernard, older people—whose immune systems already aren’t quite as robust—may be even more susceptible to these infections. It’s not entirely understood whether an immunity gap would impact other immunocompromised individuals, like those with underlying conditions, since their risk is already higher than people who are otherwise healthy.

How to Use Ventilation and Air Purifiers to Reduce Your COVID-19 Risk

How to Use Ventilation and Air Purifiers to Reduce Your COVID-19 Risk

We know at this point in the pandemic that COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors. But unless you live in a region of the US that has temperate weather year-round, patio happy hours and fire pit hangouts are not always viable options. Another COVID wave could be on the horizon, and the reality is that indoor socializing poses health risks—even in your home.Humans need social interaction, and that need doesn’t disappear when nasty weather comes knocking. If you find yourself home alone on rainy days or are worried about feeling isolated come winter, it’s worth remembering that improving air quality is an easy and oft-overlooked way to help lower your chances of spreading COVID—or any harmful airborne particles or contaminants—when gathering indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).Ventilation has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic, and many experts agree we need to raise the standard for indoor air quality across the board—in our schools, offices, grocery stores, you name it. But even without the policy changes that would make a big difference in public spaces, there is a lot you can do to improve ventilation in your home.What is ventilation, and why does it matter?Ventilation is the process of introducing clean air to an indoor space, either by bringing in outdoor air or installing filtration systems to clean the air. And with how much time most people spend inside, air quality really matters. The EPA reports that Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors. “The indoor environment shapes our health,” Stephanie Taylor, MD, a physician with a master’s in architecture who founded Building4Health to address this very issue, tells SELF. Taylor has dedicated her career to understanding how indoor environments impact our well-being, and she works with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to create guidelines on indoor air quality.The air in our homes and workplaces can have significant health implications: Indoor pollutants, including building materials, pet dander, mold and asbestos, and chemicals found in cleaning supplies, among others, can cause all sorts of issues. For example, common allergens like dust mites, roaches, and mold can lead to short-term irritation or full-blown asthma attacks in those who are susceptible. Meanwhile, some forms of bacteria build-up can set off respiratory diseases, while inhaling carcinogens like radon gas can potentially lead to certain cancers, according to the EPA. “You need to bring in more outdoor air to dilute those indoor pollutants,” Dr. Taylor says.Ventilation can “reduce exposure to contaminants that are already present in the indoor air,” William Bahnfleth, PhD, a professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University who chairs ASHRAE’s epidemic task force, tells SELF. This in turn reduces the risk of infection if harmful pathogens are lurking, he says.So, ventilation can aid in lowering your chances of contracting an airborne respiratory illness like COVID-19 if you’re sharing a space with a contagious person, and it can make you less likely to spread it if you don’t know you’re sick, especially when combined with other safety measures, like social distancing, masking, and frequent hand washing.What are my options for ventilation and filtering the air in my home?There are two basic ways to improve ventilation in your home: You can bring fresh outdoor air inside or you can clean the air that’s already indoors.

Now’s the Time to Get Older Family Members Vaccinated If You’re Seeing Them for Thanksgiving

Now’s the Time to Get Older Family Members Vaccinated If You’re Seeing Them for Thanksgiving

As the holiday season ramps up, it can be tempting to skip a few items on your to-do list. After all, gathering with loved ones takes a lot of work and preparation: confirming everyone’s on the same page about where and when to meet, planning who will bring what dishes, and making sure you have all your groceries in before the Thanksgiving shopping rush. A few things are bound to slip through the cracks, but consider this a reminder to make sure the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine isn’t one of them.If you’re planning on seeing loved ones for Turkey Day, you really shouldn’t put off getting vaccinated—and helping older family members or those with limited mobility get their boosters, too—any longer. Why? Because it can take up to 14 days for our bodies to build up maximum protection from the new boosters, which are more effective at fighting highly infectious omicron variants than previous COVID-19 vaccines, per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “The shot is a stimulus to your immune system,” William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells SELF. “The immune system has to rev up. And then, when it gets going, it produces antibodies, those protective proteins that circulate in the blood. But that takes a little time.”For this reason, Dr. Schaffner adds, you should go ahead and get your booster this week if you’re going to roll up to a big indoor gathering on Thanksgiving Day. But don’t stop there, he says: You should make sure that everyone attending plans to do the same.As SELF has previously reported, a shockingly low number of Americans have received the updated booster so far: just 7.3%, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The numbers are even bad among the over-65 crowd—only about 20% of them have received a bivalent booster. Given that people in this age group are at much higher risk across the board—more likely to require a ventilator; more likely to spend time hospitalized and/or in the intensive care unit; and more likely to die should they get COVID-19—it’s even more important that they get vaccinated ASAP.Getting the vaccine may be particularly difficult for people who aren’t tech-savvy (since it might be challenging for them to locate a nearby pharmacy and make an appointment online) and/or anyone who can’t leave their home easily. So when you text the group chat to make sure everyone’s up-to-date, ask if anyone (or anyone’s parents) needs assistance getting their booster. “There are so many people who are disabled or homebound,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Ask: How can we get them the booster?”If you live far from home and can’t physically take your parents or other loved ones to get boosted this week, try contacting their local health department. “Many health departments [set up] home vaccination services,” Dr. Schaffner explains. Granted, some of these programs have been cut due to lack of funding, he adds, but some are still operational, so it’s worth calling around to see if your family members can get boosted in the comfort of their own homes.

Another COVID Wave Is Expected This Winter—And We’re Not Prepared for It

Another COVID Wave Is Expected This Winter—And We’re Not Prepared for It

As cold and flu season settles in, COVID cases will likely rise again. Though it’s tough to predict exactly what the pandemic will have in store for us in the coming months, some experts suspect that this year’s expected winter “wave” could “spell trouble.”Elizabeth Carlton, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, says it’s certainly possible we’ll see a winter wave of not just an uptick in COVID infections, but also in hospitalizations and deaths.Right now, there are a handful of omicron subvariants picking up steam globally, like BQ.1.1, that seem to reduce how well the available COVID vaccines and treatments work, according to preliminary research. At the same time, many people are back to their pre-pandemic behaviors, and “immunity generated by vaccines or previous infections is waning,” experts say. We’ve got a new vaccine (the bivalent boosters) that may help soften the blow, but most Americans haven’t received it yet.“The bottom line is what happens this winter depends primarily on the next variant that takes over and also on booster uptake, or what proportion of the population gets this bivalent booster,” Carlton tells SELF. Here’s what you should know as the temps continue to drop.What’s the deal with the new variants?Right now, there’s a collection of variants that experts are keeping a close eye on. One of the newest, BQ.1.1, is gaining traction quickly in parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, France, and Denmark. It may be the most antibody-evasive variant experts have seen so far and could impact how effective certain treatments, like monoclonal antibodies, are.Another worrisome variant, BF.7, has been spreading fast and also has the potential to skirt around immunity. Then there is BA.4.6, which accounts for roughly 13% of new infections in the US, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).According to Carlton, epidemiologists largely agree that the emergence of stealthy variants fuels COVID waves—think back to how omicron triggered a spike in cases last winter; before that, it was delta.Are we prepared for another wave of COVID infections?Not really, says Carlton. Thanks to all the advancements we’ve made with vaccines (and thus, population immunity), as well as treatments, we’re not as susceptible to serious COVID illness as we once were, but we’re still not sitting pretty. To get the pandemic under control, we really need frequent testing, a greater push for vaccinations, and effective treatments—and the country’s not really in a place to ensure all Americans can access these tools.Consider this: Federal funding for COVID testing, treatments, and vaccines was recently slashed. It can be tough to get Paxlovid prescriptions approved, even though it’s one of the most promising antiviral drugs we have to reduce the risk of severe COVID outcomes. And, looking at the bigger picture here, millions of Americans lack primary care doctors and health insurance, rendering these services largely inaccessible and unaffordable. Experts say robust community testing helps experts gauge how widespread COVID is, but without that knowledge—again, in part, due to inequitable access—the virus still has the upper hand.How to prepare for another rise in COVID casesAs COVID spread and evolved, the available vaccines became a bit antiquated, so scientists developed new formulas—the bivalent boosters—to better target highly infectious omicron strains. Early evidence suggests the new boosters trigger a better immune response against omicron subvariants compared to the previous versions of the mRNA vaccines.

‘Scrabble’ Variants May Spike COVID Infections: What You Should Know

‘Scrabble’ Variants May Spike COVID Infections: What You Should Know

By now, we all understand that COVID will continue to evolve frequently. It’s easy to brush off news of virus mutations, but being aware of potentially concerning variants is pretty important at this stage of the pandemic. (After all, the omicron variant caused so much mayhem, it spurred the development of an updated vaccine, aka the bivalent booster.)Now, public health experts are warning about a rise in several “scrabble” variants; they have collectively led to nearly one in three new COVID infections in the country, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).That’s a pretty big deal since omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 dominated the US as recently as mid-September. Two variants in particular—BQ.1 and BQ.1.1—recently accounted for at least 11% of all COVID infections in the country, per the CDC.The issue with this collection of variants is that experts believe “they’re more immune-evasive,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF. So, how concerned should you be? Here’s what you should know as we head into the thick of cold and flu season.What are the “scrabble” variants, exactly?The term “scrabble variants” isn’t official or anything. It seems to have been coined by Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, who recently told CNN that the names of the rising variants remind him of high-scoring letters in the game Scrabble—Q, X, and B.There’s a full list that you’ll be quizzed on later (kidding!). They include:BQ.1BQ.1.1BF.7BA.4.6BA.2.75BA.2.75.2In other parts of the world—particularly in Singapore—the XBB variant is also causing all sorts of trouble.Overall, these variants “are descendants of BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5, and have accumulated additional immune-evasive mutations,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. That means any partial protection you may have—either from the COVID vaccine or a previous COVID infection—is thought to be less effective against these newer variants compared to recent omicron strains.BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, in particular, seem poised to circulate frequently in the coming months. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told CBS News that these variants are “troublesome” and have “qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have.”One reason for that? They have “minor mutations in the spike protein” that differentiate them from each other and from what’s circulating now, William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, tells SELF.What COVID symptoms do the “scrabble” variants cause?All data on these variants is “preliminary” because they’re so new, so it’s tough to say how the symptoms they cause may differ from previous strains, if they differ at all, Dr. Schaffner says. BA.4 and BA.5, for example, may have caused more back and neck pain, at least anecdotally, but symptoms still varied considerably, as SELF previously reported.

A Huge Number of People Are Lying About Taking COVID Safety Seriously

A Huge Number of People Are Lying About Taking COVID Safety Seriously

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many people are, well, a bit selfish. Most of us know a friend of a friend who decided to end their COVID isolation early to go to, say, a wedding or a concert. Or perhaps they refused to test themselves over the fear of actually being positive and needing to chill at home for a bit.Now, a new survey suggests that people do, in fact, straight-up lie about their COVID status or following public health guidelines. The survey results, which were published in JAMA Network Open, found that 721 of the 1,733 people polled—nearly 42%—said they have “misrepresented” their adherence to COVID public health measures. (Just so we’re clear, in our book, that means they lied!) For the survey, that “misrepresentation” included ignoring quarantine guidelines, telling people they were about to visit that were more cautious than they actually were, and failing to mention at the doctor’s office that they might or did have COVID.Oh, and it didn’t stop there: Some people also claimed they were vaccinated when they weren’t. These were people who admitted to doing this, so it’s reasonable to assume that the true number of people who took any part in this behavior may actually be higher. OK, but why? People most commonly listed “wanting life to feel normal” or the good ol’ “personal freedom” excuse. “A substantial minority of participants also explained these behaviors by endorsing statements about COVID-19 not being real or a big deal,” the researchers noted. So, that’s where we’re at.The researchers also found that people under the age of 60 and those who said they had a “greater distrust in science” had “significantly higher” odds of lying about COVID or refusing to follow recommendations. As a result, the researchers concluded that “future work is needed to examine strategies for communicating the consequences of misrepresentation and nonadherence.” Basically, people need to understand that lying about their COVID status or flouting public health recommendations can have dire consequences.It’s important to note that the number of people surveyed does not represent the entire country and more research needs to be done to fully understand the scope of this issue—but experts say they’re not shocked by the results. The researchers acknowledge that public health measures around COVID “can involve tremendous psychological, social, financial, and physical burdens” for some people.“It’s not really surprising, although the numbers are larger than I might have anticipated,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF.John Sellick, DO, an infectious disease expert and epidemiological researcher at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, agrees. “We’ve always had trouble convincing people to stay home when they’re sick,” he tells SELF. “With COVID-19, it’s even more complicated because we have had so many asymptomatic infections.” Because COVID restrictions have been lifted in most states, infectious disease experts say you should assume that you’ll probably interact with people who have contracted the virus on a fairly regular basis—including those who know they are infected or who have cut their isolation period short.Of course, you can’t control what other people do at this point—but you can own your actions. Systemic issues shouldn’t be up to individuals to manage, but that’s the grim reality we’re facing nearly three years into this public health crisis. If you’re concerned about COVID—because, yes, it’s still very much a thing—here’s your motivation to keep masking up in public and crowded indoor spaces and testing yourself frequently before you plan to visit others, especially those who face a higher risk of developing a serious case of COVID. We’re officially in flu season and heading into the holidays, so now’s now the time to let your guard down.Related:

A 5-Day COVID Isolation Probably Isn’t Long Enough, New Research Suggests

A 5-Day COVID Isolation Probably Isn’t Long Enough, New Research Suggests

Many people who get sick with COVID may still test positive five days—and sometimes up to 10 days—after their symptoms begin, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open. The research only fuels the ongoing discussion about how long people should isolate after they contract the virus, experts say.For the study, researchers looked at data from more than 63,000 people who visited a community testing site in San Francisco from January 2021 to January 2022. The data spanned the pre-delta, delta, and omicron BA.1 periods. (BA.1 was the original omicron variant, first identified in November 2021.) The researchers found that, during the BA.1 surge, 80% of people (!!) had continued to test positive (via a rapid antigen test) five days after their symptoms had started.And that’s a bit concerning. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends isolating at home for “at least” five days if you test positive for COVID, even if you don’t have any symptoms. (FYI: The first day is technically the day after you test positive). At the five-day mark, you can end isolation if you test negative, if you don’t have symptoms, or if your symptoms are improving and you haven’t had a fever (without the use of fever-reducing meds) in 24 hours.So…does that mean all those COVID-positive people in the study were also still contagious at the five-day mark? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure, Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who was not involved with the new study, tells SELF. Remember, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still considered to be relatively new—meaning there’s a lot that experts don’t know or totally understand about it yet. A positive test at the five-day mark confirms the presence of the virus, yes—but that doesn’t totally tell doctors how likely a person is to spread COVID at that point in time. “[Doctors are asking:] Is that just parts of dead virus, or are you truly infectious?” Dr. Russo posits.That said, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that some people will potentially be infectious five days after they test positive for COVID, William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who was not involved with the new study, tells SELF. “Positive tests don’t tell us that a virus is live, but we think a substantial number of those people have live virus,” Dr. Schaffner says. “It’s likely that a lot of those people are still able to spread the virus.”In fact, the authors of the JAMA study note that some existing data suggest a person’s infectiousness may last for an average of eight days; sometimes, a person may remain contagious beyond 10 days, but that’s thought to be “less common.”This, Dr. Schaffner explains, is why it may not be totally safe to give everyone the all-clear after they isolate for just five days at home: “If you were going to visit your grandparents or a relative who had diabetes or heart disease and you had COVID, I would wait longer before I visited those high-risk people.”So, how long should you isolate after a positive COVID test?It’s frustrating, but many people probably won’t isolate longer than five days after getting sick with COVID—if they even bother to wait that long, Dr. Schaffner says. Pandemic fatigue is real, and many people are eager to return to their pre-COVID lives, he adds. Of course, some people simply don’t have the option to stay home from work that long.

People Still Aren’t Getting the New COVID Booster. Experts Say They Aren’t Surprised.

People Still Aren’t Getting the New COVID Booster. Experts Say They Aren’t Surprised.

Many people are also simply less interested in COVID news these days, Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF. “People are now tuned out, trying to forget it and move on with their lives,” Dr. Russo says. “They don’t want to hear about COVID anymore.”This is understandable to a certain degree, given the federal government’s messaging around the state of the pandemic. In September, President Biden said the pandemic was “over” during a 60 Minutes interview, though he later tried to backtrack and say that the (ongoing) pandemic isn’t as bad as it had previously been. To add insult to injury, the CDC’s guidance has been confusing and ever-changing: In August, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admitted the agency failed to effectively respond to the pandemic. When so many public health officials are either muddying critical information or communicating that the risk for serious COVID outcomes is low—even though it’s not, given the numbers—it makes sense that a large swath of the public wouldn’t prioritize getting the updated vaccine.Also worth noting: People are being called on to do more than they usually need to do to prepare for cold and flu season this year, and this, too, may be part of the problem, experts say. “It’s always a bit of a hard sell to get people to get the flu shot, and now we’re asking people to get two [vaccinations], which makes the public health effort more challenging,” Dr. Schaffner says.But if we continue on this route, the US could be in for a tough winter, Waleed Javaid, MD, hospital epidemiologist and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City, tells SELF. Specifically, if a lot of people get sick at the same time, we could see disruptions in health care settings again, Dr. Javaid says. “This year, the indications are that the flu could be much worse than last year,” he says. “Hospital overcrowding can occur for a variety of reasons—COVID, flu, or both—and we don’t want to see that.” A rise in infections could mean more than a shortage of hospital beds, Dr. Russo adds. It may cause delays in emergency rooms and walk-in clinics around the country too: “It’s a toll at all levels” of the health care system, he explains.Though it may be tempting to base your decision on whether to get boosted solely on personal risk, there’s more at stake here than any one individual’s health. Even though COVID is often billed (incorrectly) as being “like the flu” it does pose real risks, and not just to people with underlying health conditions. (Though, of course, people with underlying conditions are also…people.) Chief among these risks is long COVID, which may affect up to one in five people who contract the virus, as SELF previously reported. And even if you get infected and experience the best-case scenario here—spending a week in bed utterly exhausted, coughing and hacking—who wants to be out of commission and feeling like garbage for any amount of time?And as we saw last winter, if there is a big spike in COVID cases, all of our day-to-day lives could be affected in some way. Another wave may once again cause disruptions in schools at every level—from day cares to colleges—and temporary or even permanent business closures.The bottom line: Now is the time to get your COVID-19 booster (and flu shot), which will help keep you and those around you safe, Dr. Russo says. Getting boosted, if you’re eligible, truly is a civic duty, Dr. Javaid adds: “We are all in this together, and we need to think about [boosters] as community service.”Related:

What Planning a COVID-Safe Wedding in a Pandemic Taught Me About Community Care

What Planning a COVID-Safe Wedding in a Pandemic Taught Me About Community Care

I got married last month, and it was the most fabulous party of my life. We had an ABBA cover band, gold disco balls, and, best of all, no known resulting COVID-19 cases. It was the perfect celebration of love—not just because we had all-gender bathrooms and dessert options for the lactose intolerant among us, but because we took responsibility for each other’s health, following in a tradition that queer communities and organizers have long modeled.A masked ceremony may have been all the rage in 2020, but most wedding photos I’ve seen this year bear more resemblance to pre-pandemic celebrations than to the outdoor micro weddings of the previous two years. Many people are willing to risk COVID on their wedding day, but my now-spouse and I were not.I had the luck and privilege of avoiding catching COVID until last spring. The acute stage of the infection was enough to make me wary of reinfection, and the months of long-term symptoms that followed sealed the deal. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the worst long COVID symptoms so far, but I know reinfection could potentially heighten my risk of lingering side effects.Even before we came down with COVID ourselves, neither I nor my then-fiancé wanted to risk our loved ones’ safety as the price of admission for our wedding. And it was also important to us to avoid infecting the many vendors and service workers involved in making the celebration happen. So from the jump, we knew we were planning a COVID-cautious event. I’m really proud of how we did it, and our wedding served as a reminder that community care is key to getting through a pandemic—and through life.We aren’t supposed to go through a pandemic alone.Despite known COVID risks, we wanted an in-person wedding. Gathering with family and friends was the primary goal, and every other choice we made was in service of that. As humans, we crave company and community. This is perhaps truer than ever in the third year of a pandemic.It’s a lonely time to be a person who still cares about avoiding constant reinfections. It seems that we’ve entered somewhat of a “you do you” phase of the pandemic, despite the fact that each new variant of SARS-CoV-2 seems better at evading immunity than the last. And while President Biden may have declared the pandemic over, nearly 30% of the world’s population has not received their first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine, which in many cases is due to lack of access.If an individualistic approach to a pandemic seems counterintuitive, that’s because it is. The shift away from “you protect me, I protect you” is no accident, in my opinion. Leaving decisions such as masking, vaccination, and testing up to each person means we can blame individual people, rather than policy or public health messaging, for spreading the virus. And a new study in the journal Nature also suggests that this sense of personal responsibility may be a key factor contributing to the severity of the pandemic in countries that score high on individualism (like the US). It can even work to dilute the efficacy of the COVID-19 policies in those places, the research shows.

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