At the risk of jumping into the alphabet soup, the newest COVID-19 omicron variants are called BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. They are even more contagious than the earlier omicron varieties (which caused a dramatic spike in cases about a year ago). While it does not appear these variants cause more serious illness, we are certainly seeing more cases. Hospitalizations in Colorado have doubled since November.
Good news: The bivalent vaccines appear to work well against the current and emerging variants. They offer up to 50% better protection against the prevailing variants than the initial two-dose vaccine. Not primarily intended to prevent infection, they do an excellent job of reducing your risk of severe COVID infections and hospitalization. Doctors recommend a booster within the past 4-6 months. Surprisingly, just 13% of those over age 5 in the United States have had the bivalent booster dose. Think of COVID boosters like you do flu shots and tetanus boosters. We are all used to receiving those vaccines on a regular basis.
The bad news: these COVID varieties are resistant to the monoclonal antibody treatments Bebtelovimab and Evusheld. Until recently, they were an important tool for protecting patients with compromised immune systems.
Prevention remains our best tool to fight COVID-19. Hand washing, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and masks remain highly effective measures to keep yourself and those in your family and community safer and healthier.
Now a few words on testing. Once exposed, the sweet spot for testing is days 3 - 5 after exposure or onset of symptoms. Serial negative test results from the home kits are highly reliable. A common misconception is that after testing positive, continued testing is required until a patient tests negative. Once a patient has tested positive, no further testing is necessary or recommended for several months. We continue to recommend a zero-contact quarantine for the first 5 days of illness or positivity then a high-quality mask for the following 5 days.
Free COVID tests are available!! It is a good idea to have 6 - 10 tests on your shelf. Click here to order your free tests.