Dr. Fauci made headlines this week by saying that the US is “out of the pandemic phase.” He later corrected himself, saying we’re out of the “acute” phase, and into the endemic phase. What he meant more broadly is that our overall case counts are relatively low compared to the highest levels during this past winter’s surge, and we’re going to continue to intermittently give boosters to folks to keep those case counts relatively low. COVID isn’t over, it’s just transitioning into a different phase and, yes, potentially different response in the long term. Do we expect major CDC guidance changes right now? No. At some point, we might expect to see loosening of quarantine recommendations for exposed people, since so many people will regularly be exposed as the virus becomes part of our everyday lives. We haven’t heard anything from our friends at the CDC about that happening just yet.
Rapid antigen tests do work against BA.2, but it might take a bit longer for rapid tests to actually show a positive test. Because BA.2 is more infectious than Omicron and other previous variants, you might be contagious before you actually test positive on a rapid test. The key is to test early and often, and if you get a negative test but have symptoms, you should still self-isolate and test again. Two rapid tests taken 24 hours apart is much closer to the accuracy of a PCR test than a single rapid test.
While the FDA has extended the expiration dates on many COVID tests, a year may be too old to continue using. Before you do anything, check the FDA website for your specific brand of test and check to see if it’s been extended. Some have gotten multiple extensions, so it’s possible your tests are still good or only recently expired. If you have the option, a non-expired test is always preferred, but a recently-expired test may still work if that’s all you’ve got on hand.
While Tamiflu and other flu antivirals have been used this way for years to prevent or reduce the severity of illness after someone is exposed to flu, that’s not currently the way that COVID antiviral pills are used. Right now, you can only get a prescription for an antiviral after a positive COVID test, and they should be started in the first five days after symptom onset. In the future, we may see this change and antivirals being used preventatively after exposure, but for now, they’re reserved for positive cases.