While it was nice to think COVID was going away and things were getting back to normal, the reality is the virus hasn't gone anywhere and in fact cases are rising again. Many states are seeing a surge and new variants continuously emerge. In response to the uptick in cases, the New York Times reports that many schools and colleges are reinforcing indoor mask mandates in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID and experts warn taking precautionary measures is still important. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explains what to know about the virus right now and COVID hotspots to avoid.Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
The Latest Information on COVID
Dr. Mitchell says, "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 55% of the country is either on high or medium alert for COVID in the community. COVID 19 has claimed the lives of over one million Americans, and that number is trending up daily. There is so much going on in the world, from wars to Ukraine, racially motivated shootings at grocery stores, abortion rights being significantly challenged, multiple homicides and tragic school shootings in Texas, and more. So it's tough to focus on COVID-19. The COVID 19 conversation isn't the headline now. Heck, to add more interest, we are now dealing with Monkeypox. I don't know about you, but my heart sinks when I hear all these headlines."
Should We Be Worried About Going Out In Public?
"The answer is YES and NO," Dr. Mitchell says. "Although the chances of contracting the virus may be lower now, it is still possible to catch it if you are not careful. There have been reports of people who were asymptomatic carriers of the virus and unknowingly spread it to others. Therefore, it is essential to take precautions when around people, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance. However, even if you are very careful, you can still catch COVID. The chances of being in places where everyone is taking precautions, and yes, wearing a properly fitted N95 mask, triple boosted with their vaccinations, are, let us say, very low. But it only takes one asymptomatic individual to infect others. The good news is that the chances of severe illness and death from COVID are very low for young, healthy people. Most people who have caught the virus have had mild symptoms or no symptoms. However, a small percentage of people develop severe symptoms and require hospitalization. In addition, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk for developing severe symptoms. So while the chances of contracting COVID may be lower now, it is still possible to catch it if you are not careful. If you do catch it, the chances of developing severe symptoms are relatively low, but they are not zero. Therefore, I would advise against testing fate."
What About Travel? Is It Safe To Fly Or Go On Vacation?
"The simple answer is no, it is not safe to travel right now," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "The CDC has issued a level 2 or 3 travel advisory for all countries, a considerable risk. Also, because masks are no longer mandated, it's a free for all. There are so many unknowns right now. So, to play it safe, I would recommend avoiding any travel if possible."
What's The New Dominant Strain?
Dr. Mitchell shares, "The highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States, causing more than half of all Covid-19 infections last week."
What To Know About COVID Right Now
Dr. Mitchell states, "The virus has not disappeared. The virus is doing what viruses are trained to do- mutate and replicate quickly to avoid being taken out by the host (human immune system). Like any other living organism, viruses are fighting for their survival. The pandemic isn't over. However, we have an opportunity to impact public health by adhering to a healthier lifestyle and reducing the burden of chronic illness by living a healthier, proactive, and holistic life."
Why Are Cases Rising Again?
According to Dr. Mitchell, "The cases are rising for many reasons, and I am sure there are many more reasons. 1) A more contagious variant has arisen 2) there has been a significant reduction in mandates/safeguards for COVID 3) People are being lax as far as taking precautions to reduce the spread of the disease 4) Waning immunity to the vaccinations over time. 5) Decreased social distancing and living life as if things were back to normal."
"The CDC has issued a level 2 or 3 travel advisory for all countries, which means high risk, " Dr. Mitchell explains. "Also, with the fact that masks are no longer mandated, it is a free for all. There are so many unknowns right now. So, to play it safe, I would recommend avoiding any travel if possible. However, in the same breath, millions have put travel plans on hold, and for varying reasons, they will board a plane and live their lives. Now I know what you're thinking, "I wear a mask on the plane, and I sanitize my hands, so I should be fine!" Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Both the CDC and WHO agree that airplanes are high-risk areas for transmitting diseases like COVID. This is because the air on planes is recycled and doesn't go through filters between flights, meaning that any viruses or bacteria on the plane will keep circulating. In addition, most people take their masks off during flights (i.e., to eat)."
Dr. Mitchell says, "I get it; people love to sing, dance, and shout during a concert. However, add an indoor show with rowdy and sometimes inebriated individuals; you are asking for trouble when it comes to COVID."
Dr. Mitchell reminds us, "We have all seen what can happen when COVID gets on a cruise ship. It can quickly spread throughout the vessel, leaving passengers and crew sick and quarantined for weeks or months. So unless you are okay with being potentially stuck on a ship for an extended period, I recommend avoiding cruises."
Indoor VS Outdoor Dining
"Indoor dining is probably one of the riskier activities you can do right now regarding COVID," Dr. Mitchell says. "There is less ventilation when you are indoors, meaning that any viruses or bacteria in the air are more likely to circulate and potentially infect people. In addition, many people take their masks off while eating, which also increases the risk of spread. So if you do choose to dine indoors, I would recommend doing so with people you are comfortable with and who you know have been taking precautions.
"Outdoor dining is safer than indoor dining, as there is more ventilation and the risk of spread is lower. However, it is still essential to be cautious when dining outdoors, as there is always the potential for close contact with others. Therefore, I would recommend sticking to outdoor dining with people you are comfortable with and who you know have been taking precautions."
"Whether they be indoors or outdoors, gatherings are still risky right now," Dr. Mitchell states. "This is because they often involve close contact with others, increasing the risk of spreading. Over the past two years, we have seen spikes in COVID cases just a few weeks after major holidays or family events. It's hard to stay optimistic when the world is spiraling out of control. Every day, there's a new headline announcing some tragedy or disaster. It's easy to become overwhelmed and even cynical about the state of the world. It's important to remember that there are still moments of light despite all the darkness. People are working tirelessly to end wars, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. Some people dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. And some ordinary people show great acts of kindness and compassion every day. In times of darkness, it's essential to focus on the light. It might not make all the headlines, but it's still there – and it gives us hope for a better tomorrow."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.