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What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Cases climb among the unvaccinated as delta variant spreads

Latest Updates

  • FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech booster. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include a coronavirus booster shot for people age 65 and older and people age 18 through 64-years-old who are at high risk for severe illness from the virus. The agency also is authorizing the third for those "whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure" to the virus also puts them at high risk for getting very sick. The shots are authorized to be administered six months after the second dose of the two-dose regimen. FDA officials largely followed the advice of their advisory panel. The next step is expected to come Thursday when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) immunization advisory committee will meet to recommend exactly who should get the booster. Then, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky must decide whether to approve the committee's recommendation.

  • J&J says second dose boosts protection. A second shot of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will increase protection against symptoms and severe disease, according to the drug company. J&J has so far been a single-dose vaccine and the manufacturer's booster data has not yet been peer reviewed. The company says its COVID-19 booster shot is 94 percent effective when given two months after the first dose and that the additional shot also increases antibody levels by four to six times compared with the one-dose regimen. Company officials also say they have submitted their data to the FDA, which would have to approve the use of a second J&J shot. The agency is still considering a recommendation by its expert advisory panel to authorize a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Americans age 65 and older as well as health care workers and others at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease. Moderna has also asked the FDA to consider authorizing a booster dose of its vaccine.

  • Charges for a complex case of COVID-19 can top $300,000. Hospitals in the U.S. billed private insurers an average of $317,810 for a “complex” COVID-19 hospitalization that required services such as ventilators and a room in the intensive care unit, according to FAIR Health, a nonprofit that collects and manages data for privately billed health insurance claims. Charges for less complex hospitalizations hover around $74,591 and outpatient costs are about $2,557. Currently, the vast majority of people in the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, health officials have confirmed. And more than 280,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations could have been prevented by vaccination between June to August 2021, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports.

  • Pfizer reports its low-dose vaccine is safe and effective in kids. Children ages 5 to 11 generated a robust immune response to a smaller-dose version of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the company announced on Monday, citing results from its clinical trial. And the shot — which is one-third of the amount given to adults, also administered in two doses — was found to be safe and well-tolerated in the pediatric population. The companies still need to submit the yet-to-be-published data to the FDA for review before the agency can authorize use of the vaccines in kids. The companies say they plan to do so “as soon as possible.”

  • One-third of people with COVID-19 experience ‘long COVID.’ Up to one-third of more than 360 people who had COVID-19 between April and December of 2020 reported symptoms that persisted two months after testing positive, a new report from the CDC finds. Adults 40 and older were more likely to experience these lingering symptoms — so were Black Americans, women and people with preexisting conditions. "As the number of recovered COVID-19 patients increases, monitoring the prevalence of post-acute sequelae among larger cohorts in diverse populations is important because it can help develop efforts to prioritize prevention and treatment strategies for these populations," the study's authors write. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that it is building a nationwide study to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19. It invested nearly $470 million in the project.

  • Unvaccinated individuals are over 10 times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. New studies released by the CDC show that despite delta’s dominance, the COVID-19 vaccines are still keeping people out of the hospital. In one report, researchers looked at more than 600,000 COVID-19 cases across 13 states this spring and summer and found that unvaccinated individuals were about five times as likely to get a coronavirus infection as vaccinated people, and they were over 10 times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and about 11 times as likely to die from it. 

    A second study found overall vaccine effectiveness in preventing hospitalization to be about 86 percent, even with delta as the dominant variant. Effectiveness, however, was lower among adults 75 and older (about 76 percent) than those 18 to 74 (about 89 percent). “The bottom line is this: We have the scientific tools we need to turn the corner on this pandemic,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing. “Vaccination works and will protect us from the severe complications of COVID-19.”

  • Biden administration calls for more vaccine mandates and other policies to combat COVID-19. President Biden announced a multi-pronged strategy aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus after a summer surge that’s continuing into fall. In it: a new rule that businesses with more than 100 employees mandate vaccines or have workers tested weekly, and a requirement that all employees in most hospital and health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding get vaccinated. Federal employees and contractors will also need to be vaccinated, the president’s plan says. And employers with 100 or more workers must provide paid time off for their employees to get the shots.

    Large entertainment venues, including sports arenas, are encouraged to require proof-of-vaccination or a negative test for entry into events. And the plan calls on governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff. What’s more, at-home rapid testing will become more available — and affordable — this fall. The president announced that the federal government is helping to scale up the production of rapid at-home tests, which have been in short supply in recent months. These tests will also be sold at-cost for the next three months at Amazon, Walmart and Kroger. Read the president’s full plan here

  • Breakthrough infections are less likely to lead to long COVID. Vaccinated people who get a breakthrough coronavirus infection are about half as likely to experience persisting symptoms of COVID-19, known as long COVID, compared to unvaccinated people who get infected with the virus, a new study shows. The report, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on data from the COVID Symptom Study app. It found that fully vaccinated adults who had a breakthrough infection were 49 percent less likely to have symptoms lasting at least four weeks after infection. Long COVID has affected millions of people since the start of the pandemic, and many have reported debilitating symptoms. As a result, clinics have popped up all over the country to study the phenomenon and to help these so-called long-haulers get back to normal. 

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

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,” when 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, 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people who were 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
  • 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)

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What can you do to reduce your risk?

Get vaccinated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially approved one COVID-19 vaccine — a two-shot series from Pfizer-BioNTech — and has issued emergency use authorizations (EUA) for two other COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Full approval for these vaccines may be forthcoming.

All three vaccines are safe and effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Health officials are encouraging everyone who is 12 and older to get vaccinated (shots for younger populations are still being evaluated), including people who have had COVID-19 in the past.

Other ways to lower the likelihood of getting sick from COVID-19: Wear a face mask in public indoor settings; avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces; put at least 6 feet between yourself and others not in your household; 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.

To date, no long-term side effects have been detected.

A small number of vaccine recipients have experienced adverse reactions. These serious events after COVID-19 vaccination “are rare but may occur,” the CDC says. Anaphylaxis after COVID-19 vaccination has occurred in approximately 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated in the U.S., and 46 cases of a clotting disorder following the J&J vaccine have been recorded, according to the CDC. Health officials are also monitoring reports of Guillain-Barré Syndrome in people who have received the J&J shot, and myocarditis or pericarditis in some younger adults after vaccination.

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

The COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection and serious illness, the CDC says. In fact, studies show fully vaccinated people are 8 times less likely to be infected and 25 times less likely to experience hospitalization or death.  

However, the vaccines are not 100 percent effective, so it is still possible for some fully vaccinated individuals to get COVID-19. This is called a “breakthrough infection.”

Fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections are less likely to develop serious illness from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, the CDC says, but they can still be contagious and spread the virus to others. This is why health officials recommend that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a face mask in public indoor settings — especially in areas where virus transmission levels are high or substantial. This can help prevent people with asymptomatic or mild illness from unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

It’s difficult to estimate how many people have asymptomatic or mild breakthrough infections. Severe breakthrough infections, however, are tracked and are rare. As of Sept. 7, about 0.008 percent of the 176 fully vaccinated Americans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 or have died from the disease.

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 

The CDC acknowledges this list is not exhaustive, and some more unusual symptoms have been noted throughout the pandemic — from cognitive complications to skin rashes. 

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? 

The CDC says you should consider getting a COVID-19 test if: 

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • You are unvaccinated and have taken part in an activity that puts you at higher risk for COVID-19, such as traveling or attending a large event.
  • You have been asked to get tested by a health care provider or state or local health department.

Your health care provider should be able to administer a COVID-19 test. You can also contact your local health department to find out about testing locations. Many pharmacies are also offering on-site testing.

Another option: The FDA has authorized a handful of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests that you can take at home. These so-called rapid antigen tests require a nasal swab and can deliver results in about 15 minutes. Many major retailers sell these tests. Learn more about them here.  

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. A few other therapies have EUAs from the FDA, including monoclonal antibody treatments, which help to mimic the body’s immune system and fight off a viral infection. These are often administered to people who have COVID-19 and are at high risk of the illness progressing to severe disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020 issued guidelines that strongly recommend the use of dexamethasone (along with other inexpensive and common corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone) for the treatment of patients “with severe and critical COVID-19.” Clinical trials found that corticosteroids cut the risk of death in patients hospitalized with the disease. 

Convalescent plasma has also received an EUA from the FDA. Blood plasma donated by individuals who have recovered from a coronavirus infection can contain antibodies that may speed recovery when administered to patients hospitalized with COVID-19. However, the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines find there is not enough evidence to recommend these treatments at the present time, according to the CDC.  

the covid vaccine in your state

The latest on how to get the vaccine.

What about travel during the pandemic?

Before you make travel plans, be sure to double-check any rules pertaining to your destination and mode of transportation. Many states, cities and countries have travel restrictions or guidelines in place that could affect your trip. AARP has a list of coronavirus restrictions in every state. Plus, the CDC has country-specific travel recommendations based on COVID-19 risk levels. 

The CDC says both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers should still follow these recommendations for traveling safely: 

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, and also in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

  • Keep a safe distance from others and avoid crowds. ​

  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer. 

Fully vaccinated travelers are “less likely to get and spread COVID-19” health officials say, but they should still be on alert. They can leave the country without getting a COVID-19 test unless their destination requires it, and they do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S. unless it’s required by a local jurisdiction.

However, vaccinated people are still required to have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board an international flight in order to return to the U.S., the CDC says, and they should take a COVID-19 test three to five days after returning. People are fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. ​​If you are unvaccinated: The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Testing can help you travel more safely, the CDC says. The CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip. Keep a copy of your test results with you during travel; you may be asked for them.

International travel is strongly discouraged for unvaccinated individuals. Those who must travel should have a negative COVID-19 viral test result no more than three days before leaving the country and they are required to have a negative COVID-19 viral test result no more than three days before returning to the U.S.

Testing and quarantining are also advised upon return. AARP has information about specific travel advisories, and airline change fees, as well as tips on how to stay safe when you travel.

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.

So far, the available vaccines still provide a high level of protection against the circulating variants, including against delta — the dominant variant in the U.S. that is responsible for about 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases.

However, the more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. And it may be that one day, a new variant pops up with the ability to evade the current tools we have to fight it. The best way to prevent this scenario, health experts say, is to get vaccinated and slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

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 recent report published by the CDC found that as many as one-third of people with COVID-19 had lingering symptoms two months after a positive test result.

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.

This story will be updated periodically with new developments. Check back regularly.

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