Questions and answers on COVID: what you need to know about options, vaccines, antiviral drugs

Read Time:6 Minute, 7 Second

We are about to enter the fourth year of the coronavirus in the United States, but there is still uncertainty ahead.

Sacramento Bee posed a few reader questions along with our Dr. Dean Blumberg, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UC Davis.

Below, in a video interview edited for brevity and clarity, he answers: Are we still in a pandemic? Will COVID ever end? Is my wedding plan secure enough? What about masks in schools? Some readers gave The Bee permission to publish their names, while others preferred to remain anonymous.

Watch the video here:

Read the edited transcript below:

Is the coronavirus still a pandemic?

The bee asked: Are we still in a pandemic?

Bloomberg: “I think we are right on the threshold of transition from a pandemic to an endemic area. I think the pandemic … we’ve had waves that have occurred in the summer, which is not the traditional season when we see transmission of the coronavirus, but we saw it in 2009 with the H1N1 flu as well. That’s why it was a pandemic, because we have this susceptibility in the population and an abnormal pattern of transmission….

“The wave we’ve already seen this winter is already improving. It continues to subside. And if we don’t get any new variants of concern, then hopefully the next wave will be next fall or winter. But, of course, the wildcard – if there are new options, things can change.”

Will we get rid of COVID soon?

A reader asked: “Do you think COVID… will ever end? If so, when considering all the new options?”

Bloomberg: “I think that COVID will stay with us and become a seasonal virus, like the flu. Every winter we will see waves. We are going to have a season of COVID…

“For example, in the summer – unless we get some alarming new variants and hopefully with more widespread immunity in our communities due to vaccination and pre-infection – it will no longer result in an overwhelming number of hospitalizations or deaths.”

Should I do the bivalent vaccine?

Reader Eric Burdick asked: “I am ‘fully’ vaccinated…Should I get the Omicron vaccine or am I protected from this option?”

Bloomberg: “Everyone should get all the vaccine doses they are entitled to, including the bivalent vaccine if they are eligible. The bivalent vaccine protects better against strains that are currently circulating, including strains that are not even in the vaccine, such as XBB.1.5. And it also leads to a broader, more diverse immune response that is likely to protect against strains we haven’t seen yet.”

Could the vaccine make my chronic condition worse?

Reader Stephen Kasover asked: “My cousin claims the Covid vaccine made his arthritis worse. Has such a reaction been observed in some vaccinated people?”

Bloomberg: “Surprisingly, after vaccination, different people can happen. Therefore, some conditions may improve and some conditions may worsen. But the vast majority of scientific evidence and all studies do not show that vaccination makes arthritis or other chronic conditions worse.”

How can we prevent the transmission of COVID?

Reader Martin Chow asked: “What preventative measures and medical treatments are already in place to limit and stop the RAPID transmission of this pandemic?”

Bloomberg: “We have the same things that have seemed to work for the last few years — vaccinating people (and) their vaccine and all the doses they’re eligible for is the primary way to prevent infection, and then masking continues to do very well infection prevention work.

“For those who have been infected, the next step is to find out if they are eligible for antiviral treatment, the most common of which is a brand called Paxlovid. It’s the one that has the least side effects, it’s the easiest to give—you give it orally—so you can take it at home, you don’t have to be in the hospital for it. I would encourage people, if they do have a breakthrough infection or if they become infected, to call their healthcare provider to see if Paxlovid would be a good treatment for them.”

Can Paxlovid treat new variants?

Bee asked: Do antivirals work for either variant?

Bloomberg: “We have permanent protection with Paxlovid. It continues to work with current options. To date, we have not seen any drug resistance, any antiviral resistance. But it’s something that’s being monitored, and that’s a concern.”

Is the indoor event safe?

A reader asked: “I’m getting married this April. The ceremony is outside, but the reception is inside with the windows open. What are the best ways we can reduce the risk to our guests?”

Bloomberg: “Any activity that takes place outside will be safer than an activity that takes place indoors, which will take place in a more intimate space, you will be closer to people and there will be less air for the virus to spread.

“The mask may still be a good option for some people indoors if they are concerned about being infected … Some people are recommending testing before large gatherings … For this, it seems to work better if the people holding the event provide the tests to people , which are present… If you are indoors, increased ventilation is always good, so it is good to have the windows open. And if the room has very high ceilings, that means there’s more air volume to dilute the virus…”

How careful should I be about COVID?

Reader Lisa Dere: “How careful should I be with COVID given that I have several but mild autoimmune conditions?…”

Bloomberg: “It really depends on the medications needed to treat these conditions… Talk to your doctor and ask them if they would consider you ‘severely immunocompromised’, ‘moderately immunocompromised’ or not at all “.

How dangerous is XBB.1.5, dubbed “Kraken”?

Bee asked: Should we be worried about the new XBB.1.5 variant called “Kraken?”

Bloomberg: “It really has a growth advantage. It multiplies faster than (the other variants) and can escape the previous immunity that people had from being infected with the other variants or from previous vaccination. But it doesn’t seem to lead to more serious illnesses or more hospitalizations.

“And again, the bivalent vaccine appears to provide better protection against this variant and other future variants compared to the older monovalent vaccine.”

How does COVID affect school-aged children?

The Bee asked: What do parents need to worry about to keep their children in school as we approach the start of the fourth year of the coronavirus?

Bloomberg: “Nowadays, most people don’t go to school wearing masks, so going to school will be a risk factor not only for getting infected with COVID, but also with other respiratory viruses… I think a lot of parents are used to their children being healthy without these common childhood infections behind the last few years due to homeschooling…. distance learning… the disguise that was in place.

“I think what we see is that parents see their child sick all the time, but it’s back to normal.”

Still have questions about COVID-19?

Tell us by emailing servicejournalists@sacbee.com or filling out the form below.

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Han Chiong is a desk reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She was previously a freelance journalist covering education and culture for PBS SoCal and music for buzzbands.la.

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