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Leave COVID behind when traveling this summer

By The Health News Team | July 5, 2023
Man smiling in wheelchair

The summer travel season is in full swing. And while most travelers will do their best to leave COVID-19 behind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy.

According to recent numbers from the California Department of Public Health, the testing positivity rate has steadily increased since early May, indicating people are still getting COVID-19. What’s more, these statistics do not include the case numbers of people who self-tested at home.

“Every day, people are still testing positive for COVID,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “And we have to remember that an overwhelming number of people are primarily testing at home, so we don’t have an accurate count of positive test results. However, in general, numbers are drastically down when compared to the summers of 2021 and 22.”

To avoid catching and spreading COVID-19 this summer, Dr. Olulade joins the CDC in sharing the following recommendations:

Remain up to date on vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccines remain the most important tool to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization and death. For people age 6 months and older, multiple doses continue to be recommended and will vary according to COVID vaccination history. Those age 6 and above should get an updated (bivalent) booster, regardless of whether they previously completed their primary vaccine series. And individuals age 65 and older as well as those with compromised immune systems should receive a second updated (bivalent) booster.

If you have COVID-19, ask your doctor about available treatments, including Paxlovid.

Paxlovid, an oral antiviral medication, can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 90%. Paxlovid works best when taken within five days of experiencing symptoms.

Test if you have symptoms before attending gatherings.

Before attending a large, indoor gathering or spending time with someone at high risk of severe illness, consider taking a COVID-19 test. Testing helps to identify if you’re infected and also helps prevent spread. Follow CDC isolation guidance if you receive a positive test result.

“It’s important to understand you are not considered ‘up to date’ on vaccines until you’ve received an updated booster shot,” Dr. Olulade says. “Being vaccinated may reduce your chance of getting COVID-19, decreases the risk of severe illness and death from it, and reduces the spread of COVID in the community.”

New vaccine booster on the horizon

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaccine booster to protect against a fall surge like we saw during the pandemic. The new shot will only target the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. COVID-19 XBB variants are currently responsible for the majority of new cases.

While the CDC has yet to determine who will be eligible for the new vaccine booster, it is assumed those who are at greatest risk for severe illness will be among the first. This includes people age 65 and older and those with certain underlying medical conditions, including cancer; chronic kidney, liver or lung disease; heart conditions; and diabetes.

Additionally, people who are immunocompromised due to a medical condition or its treatment are likely to get very sick from COVID-19 or be sick for a longer period of time. This population is currently eligible to get additional doses of the updated (bivalent) COVID-19 vaccine and should talk with their doctor about the new vaccine once it is available.

“We don’t yet know if COVID-19 vaccines will be annual vaccines, like the flu vaccine,” Dr. Olulade says. “Because the protection against COVID tends to wane about six months after receiving a vaccine, we might need to be vaccinated twice a year. Regardless, it is important to follow the CDC’s most recent vaccine guidelines, which are updated as new guidance and vaccines are approved.”

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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