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What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Omicron's highly contagious subvariants circulate throughout the U.S.

Latest Updates

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CDC recommends updated coronavirus boosters. Just one day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized reformulated COVID-19 boosters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommended them, paving the way for the shots to be available to the public. The updated boosters, from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, better target the omicron variants of the coronavirus that are currently circulating and are expected to keep causing infections this fall. “They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said about the products. CDC data shows that, on average, around 400 Americans are still losing their lives to COVID-19 every day. Adults 18 and older are eligible for the new booster from Moderna at least two months after finishing their primary series or receiving their last booster dose; people 12 and up can get the updated booster from Pfizer along the same timeline. And like the previous booster shots, which are now being phased out, the new version is free. Interested in getting the updated booster? The vaccines have started shipping, so check with your doctor or pharmacy to see if they have them in stock. 

Fauci to leave NIH in December. Anthony Fauci, who has advised seven U.S. presidents and worked for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than 50 years, says he will step down in December as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which he has led for 38 years. But the 81-year-old made it clear that he is not retiring. “So long as I’m healthy, which I am, and I’m energetic, which I am, and I’m passionate, which I am, I want to do some things outside of the realm of the federal government,” Fauci said in a televised interview on Aug. 21. Fauci also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and has had similar roles with other presidents, starting with President Ronald Reagan. In addition to his current work on COVID-19, Fauci presided over the NIAID during such infectious disease threats as HIV/AIDS, the West Nile virus, anthrax attacks, pandemic influenza, Ebola and Zika. President George W. Bush awarded Fauci the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.

COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax gets FDA authorization for adolescents. The FDA has authorized Novavax’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccine series for adolescents ages 12 to 17, roughly one month after the agency OK’d its use in adults 18 and older. The company says this vaccine was shown to be 78 percent effective in trials with this age group. The two doses of this vaccine are given three weeks apart. Novavax’s product uses a different, more traditional, technology than the other COVID-19 vaccines on the market. Instead of prompting the body to make its own version of the spike protein (a key part of the virus), the protein is made in a lab and then delivered directly upon injection. “If you have been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine built on a different technology than those previously available, now is the time to join the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said when the vaccine was first authorized for adults in July. “With COVID-19 cases on the rise again across parts of the country, vaccination is critical to help protect against the complications of severe COVID-19 disease.”

CDC makes changes to COVID-19 guidelines. The CDC updated some of its COVID-19 guidelines on Aug. 11, easing a few of its recommendations, including testing and quarantine guidelines. For example, the agency no longer recommends, in most cases, testing asymptomatic people who have not been exposed to COVID-19. It also says that unvaccinated people and individuals who are not up to date on their COVID-19 shots who are exposed to the virus no longer need to quarantine at home after their exposure. Instead, individuals, regardless of vaccination status, who come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are encouraged to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day five. Isolation guidelines have not changed: If you do test positive for the virus and have a mild case, the recommendation is to stay home and isolate away from others for at least five days. If your symptoms resolve, you can leave isolation after day five but should continue to wear a mask and avoid high-risk individuals through day 10. People with more moderate and severe bouts of COVID-19 may need to isolate longer than five days. “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” said Greta Massetti, an author on the report detailing the new CDC recommendations. The agency said it will continue to focus efforts on preventing severe illness and post-COVID conditions. 

Some pharmacists can now prescribe Paxlovid. The FDA is now allowing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe the COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid. Previously, individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 needed a prescription from their doctor or from a special test-to-treat site. People seeking Paxlovid from a pharmacist will need to show a copy of their recent health records (less than 12 months old) that include blood work so the pharmacist can review for kidney or liver problems. They'll also need to bring a list of all the medications they are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, so the pharmacist can screen for any potential drug interactions. 

“The FDA recognizes the important role pharmacists have played and continue to play in combating this pandemic,” Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “Since Paxlovid must be taken within five days after symptoms begin, authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid could expand access to timely treatment for some patients who are eligible to receive this drug for the treatment of COVID-19.” The FDA still suggests, however, that people who test positive for COVID-19 first consider seeking care from their regular health care provider or from a test-to-treat site in their area. 

Answers to the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19

How can you catch COVID-19?

​COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by a virus, SARS-CoV-2 (the new coronavirus). It’s spread in three main ways, according to the CDC. You can catch COVID-19 by breathing in air if you are close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus. You can also get it if those small droplets and particles land in your eyes, nose or mouth (likely through coughs or sneezes), or if you have virus particles on your hands and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

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Who is at risk for COVID-19?

​Anyone can get COVID-19, but some people are more at risk for what experts call “severe disease,” at which time hospitalization or intensive care may be required. ​​

Older adults are more likely than younger, healthier people to experience serious illness from COVID-19. In fact, the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people 50 or older — and the risk increases with age. ​​

Adults of any age with an underlying medical condition are also at increased risk for complications from a coronavirus infection, including people with:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate to severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension)
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
  • Liver disease
  • Mental health conditions, including depression and schizophrenia spectrum disorders
  • Overweight and obesity (defined as a body mass index of 25 or greater)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Smoking, current or former
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant (includes bone marrow transplants)
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
  • Substance use disorders (such as alcohol, opioid or cocaine use disorder)
  • Tuberculosis

What can you do to reduce your risk?

Get vaccinated and boosted. The FDA has officially approved two vaccines — a two-shot series from Pfizer-BioNTech and another two-shot series from Moderna. It has also issued an emergency use authorization (called an EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and another developed by Novavax.

​​All four vaccines are effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Health officials are encouraging everyone 6 months of age and older to get vaccinated, including people who have had COVID-19 in the past. 

And once you are vaccinated, you should get boosted. The CDC recommends that people 12 and older get a new omicron-specific booster from Pfizer at least two months after their last shot; adults 18 and older can get a similar omicron booster from Moderna at least two months after their last shot, even if that last shot was a booster.​​

Other ways to lower the likelihood of getting sick from COVID-19: Wear a high-quality face mask in public indoor settings (see the CDC’s new guidance on when one might be needed in your community), avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and wash your hands often.

Do the vaccines have side effects?

​It’s common to experience mild to moderate side effects after getting vaccinated, such as soreness in the arm, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, nausea, fever or chills — but these are temporary “and normal signs that your body is building protection,” the CDC says. ​​

A small number of vaccine recipients have experienced adverse reactions to the shots. These serious events after COVID-19 vaccination “are rare but may occur,” the CDC says. Anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction, has occurred in approximately 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated in the U.S. (nearly 600 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered). This is why you may be asked to wait about 15 minutes after your shot or booster to monitor for symptoms. Vaccine providers are equipped with medicines to quickly treat the reaction. ​​

Health officials are also monitoring reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in some adolescents and younger adults after vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Most of these patients who received care responded well to medicine and felt better quickly, the CDC says. ​​

Another uncommon event that has been linked to J&J’s vaccine is a rare but serious clotting disorder, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. There have been 60 cases as of March 2022 out of about 14 million doses administered; nine people have died from it. Young women in their 30s and 40s are most at risk. After reviewing evidence of the adverse event, the CDC decided on Dec. 16, 2021, to recommend the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over J&J’s product; the FDA has since limited its authorization. J&J’s vaccine, however, is still available to those who are “unable or unwilling” to get vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna.

Can you get COVID-19 even if you’re fully vaccinated?

The COVID-19 vaccines can help prevent a coronavirus infection, but importantly, they are highly effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. In fact, unvaccinated individuals 50 and older are 14 times more likely die from COVID-19 than their vaccinated peers who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, federal data from June 2022 shows. Hospitalization rates are also much higher among unvaccinated adults.

​Despite these protections, the vaccines are not 100 percent effective at stopping the virus — and preliminary data show that omicron is better at sneaking around the vaccines than previous variants — so it is still possible for fully vaccinated individuals to get COVID-19. This is called a “breakthrough infection.”

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​While fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections are less likely to develop serious illness from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, they can still be contagious and spread the virus to others. Wearing a mask in indoor public settings can help prevent people with asymptomatic or mild illness from unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

​People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms that typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, including:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea 

​A COVID-19 test can help you determine if you have an infection. You can also check the CDC’s interactive guide for advice on appropriate medical care. Most people with COVID-19 can recover at home. However, if you develop emergency warning signs — pain or pressure in the chest; new disorientation or confusion; pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds; difficulty breathing; or an inability to wake or stay awake — get medical attention immediately.

What should I know about testing? 

​Testing can help keep you and others around you safe. If you’re experiencing symptoms, test yourself. You should also take a test before an indoor event or gathering or after you were exposed to somebody with COVID-19.

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Most health insurers cover the cost of at-home tests for plan participants. Medicare beneficiaries can receive up to eight over-the-counter tests each month, free of charge.

What should you do if you get sick?

​It’s important to stay home and separate yourself from others for at least five days if you test positive for COVID-19, even if you don’t develop symptoms and don’t feel sick — and you should wear a mask when around others for at least 10 days. 

If your symptoms persist after five days, you may need to isolate for longer. The CDC has isolation guidelines for specific scenarios, including for people who are immunocompromised. Stay hydrated, keep track of your symptoms, and keep in touch with your health care provider. You may qualify for a treatment that can help reduce your risk of developing complications. If you notice any of the following, seek immediate medical attention: trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

Are there treatments?

​So far, the FDA has approved just one treatment for COVID-19 — the antiviral drug remdesivir, which is for people hospitalized with COVID-19 and those at risk for being hospitalized. A few other therapies have FDA authorization, including monoclonal antibody treatments, which help to mimic the body’s immune system and fight off a viral infection.

​And on Dec. 22, 2021, the FDA authorized a first-of-its-kind treatment for COVID: A prescription pill from Pfizer that can help keep a coronavirus infection from causing serious illness in people who are most at risk for COVID complications. A similar pill from drug maker Merck received the OK from regulators soon after. Unlike other COVID treatments, which are administered in health care facilities by way of an injection or infusion, these oral medications are dispensed at pharmacies and taken at home.

What are the variants?

Public health officials have identified several new strains of the coronavirus, some of which are more contagious and may cause more severe illness. In the U.S., the biggest variant of concern is omicron and its sibling strains

Pfizer and Moderna have new boosters out that better target omicron. Health officials are recommending that all fully vaccinated adults — no matter how many boosters are under their belt — get an omicron-specific booster this fall to help prevent severe illness from a coronavirus infection.

What is long COVID?

​Many COVID-19 survivors battle lingering symptoms for weeks or months after infection, even if the initial infection was mild or asymptomatic. Sometimes called “long-haulers,” they suffer from dizziness, insomnia, confusion, a racing heart or a host of other lasting effects that keep them from getting back to their normal lives. 

​​A report published by the CDC found that as many as 1 in 4 older adults with COVID-19 had new or lingering symptoms. ​​

Experts encourage COVID-19 patients experiencing long COVID to seek care from a medical provider. Several U.S. hospitals and research centers have set up special clinics and rehabilitation services for survivors.

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