A Guide to Managing COVID This Summer

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With the rise of new variants of the coronavirus, doctors and researchers are preparing for a potential increase in cases this summer. Two of these variants, KP.3 and KP.2, now make up almost half of all cases. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates a slight uptick in emergency room visits and positive tests related to COVID-19.

If you do happen to fall ill, here’s what you should know about symptoms, testing, and treatment:

Symptoms to be aware of:

According to Aubree Gordon, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, there is no evidence to suggest that symptoms of the new dominant variants, collectively known as the “FLiRT” variants, are any different from other recent strains of the virus. Common symptoms still include sneezing, congestion, headaches, sore muscles, nausea, or vomiting. Many individuals also experience exhaustion and a general feeling of being unwell.
Generally speaking, if you have been vaccinated or have had past infections, your next encounter with the virus is likely to be less severe. However, it is possible to experience more intense symptoms with a new infection than you have had in previous cases of COVID-19.

The symptoms of COVID-19 can resemble those caused by allergies or other infections. The best way to distinguish between them is through testing.

When and how to test

Ideally, experts recommend taking a COVID-19 test as soon as symptoms develop or if you have been exposed to the virus. It is also advised to test again a day or two later. However, if you have a limited number of at-home rapid tests, there are ways to maximize their effectiveness. For example, if you have a fever and a cough, it is recommended to test immediately, as advised by Dr. Davey Smith, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California, San Diego.
If you are experiencing other symptoms but have limited access to tests, it may be advisable to wait a few days before testing in order to minimize the risk of obtaining a false negative result. However, individuals who are immunocompromised, older, or have underlying health conditions should consider testing as soon as they start feeling sick or become aware of potential exposure. This would allow them to begin taking Paxlovid, which can help reduce the severity of the illness, according to Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In the case where you have been experiencing symptoms for more than three days but continue to test negative, it is unlikely that you will ever test positive using an at-home test. This could be due to either not having COVID-19 or having such low levels of the virus that a rapid test cannot detect it, as explained by Gordon.
Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, advises taking precautions while waiting for a COVID test, such as wearing a mask in public and isolating from others. It is important to check the expiration date of the test before using it and consult the FDA database to confirm its usability. It is also recommended to store COVID tests properly during the summer months to maintain their accuracy. However, tests made by Cue Health should be avoided. In March, the FDA approved a new medication called Pemgarda for highly immunocompromised individuals, which can be taken as a preventive measure before contracting the virus, especially for those receiving stem cell or organ transplants.
Paxlovid can be taken by individuals aged 12 and above who have tested positive for COVID-19. It should be taken within five days of experiencing symptoms. This medication stops the virus from multiplying in the body and reduces the risk of death, especially for those who are more vulnerable to severe illness. Experts have stated that there is no evidence to suggest that Paxlovid is less effective against the current dominant variants compared to previous strains of the virus. However, the potential of Paxlovid in reducing the risk of developing long COVID is still a topic of debate among scientists.

There are two other antiviral treatments, remdesivir (Veklury) and molnupiravir (Lagevrio), that doctors use less frequently. Remdesivir is administered through intravenous infusion and is given to both adults and children. On the other hand, molnupiravir is a pill that can be used in adults to lower the risk of severe disease.

While sick, doctors recommend getting as much rest as possible. If you feel up to it, taking a short walk around the block is advised, but it’s important not to overexert yourself.
“Long walks are enjoyed by some individuals,” stated Smith. “As for me, I prefer staying in bed and immersing myself in a good book. Essentially, enduring it becomes the main approach.”