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It’s definitely alarming right now. For the first time, we’re seeing flu, RSV, and COVID all rising at the same time. There are some indications that RSV is peaking in parts of the US, which is hopeful, but flu is already higher than ever and rising exponentially, and COVID cases are going back up. We’re seeing more hospitalizations for flu than we have in a decade, and our hospitals are already under serious strain. Combine this with the holidays, and we’re certainly concerned. It’s not likely to be the same COVID-specific surge that we saw last year, but we are much more worried about what the next month will look like than we were before we saw this week’s flu and COVID data.
Now is the time to start masking again, even if you haven’t been recently. As an individual, you can reduce your own risk by masking up when you go to the grocery store, on public transportation, and other crowded indoor areas. If making it to your family’s holiday gathering is very important for you, take fewer risks in the 10 days before - it may not be the time for you to go unmasked to a large concert, for example. For your business, now might be the time to consider bringing a mask mandate back if staffing issues could shut you down and hurt your bottom line. When illness starts to break out at one location, consider switching from sick calls to daily wellness checks to catch more folks who think it’s “just a sore throat” (now the most common first symptom of COVID and common in flu and RSV, too). Emphasize the importance of staying home when sick, and that COVID is NOT the only thing that employees need to stay home with. If they have the flu or RSV, that’s just as contagious, and can be just as damaging for your business if they come to work sick and infect coworkers and guests.
First, it’s winter, and that means people are moving indoors. This year, they’re doing that with far fewer precautions than last year and the year before, so there’s a higher risk. Second, we have abysmal booster uptake. Less than 15% of Americans are up to date on their booster, even among seniors who are most at risk. Boosters lose power over time, so people need to be boosted in the past 6 months to be covered effectively. Having had COVID before isn’t enough - you can still get sick and get long COVID if you’re infected again. To reduce personal risk, wear a mask, ventilate indoor spaces well, get a booster (and flu shot) ASAP, and stay home if you’re sick.
This is actually a very good question as we start to transition out of the acute emergency stage and into living with the virus every day. Eventually, there will probably come a time when we will treat COVID the way that we treated a mild cold before the pandemic, but we’re not there yet. COVID is much more contagious than the flu, RSV, or strep throat, for example. It’s also more dangerous (it’s still killing 300 people a day in the US), and there’s still a lot that we don’t know about it, like how to prevent and treat long COVID. On a larger scale, we still want to prevent the spread because it can mutate very easily, as well, which can cause another variant surge like Omicron’s last year around this time. For now, we’re not ditching the isolation any time soon for those who are COVID positive.