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What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

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

Latest Updates

New boosters provide “significant additional protection” against COVID-19.  A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds the updated bivalent boosters — which target omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, along with the original strain of the coronavirus — provide additional protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in people already vaccinated with the original (monovalent) formula. The study is the first to look at the effectiveness of the new booster in a real-world setting as descendants of the omicron variant dominate in the U.S. On the heels of the report’s release, White House officials announced a six-week campaign to get more Americans vaccinated and boosted before the holidays and cold-weather months, when respiratory illnesses abound. The government is expanding the number of locations administering vaccines, including mobile and pop-up sites, and is working to make sure vaccine education is available in nursing homes throughout the U.S. “We’re doing everything we can in the next six weeks to help families get the updated COVID shots by the end of the year, because it’s the best protection for this winter,” said Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator. The boosters are authorized for Americans ages 5 and up. Visit Visit to find the nearest vaccine site.

Repeat COVID infections can be dangerous. If you’ve had COVID-19 in the past, that doesn’t mean future coronavirus infections will be less severe, a new study suggests. A team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Healthcare System found that repeat coronavirus infections can come with consequences, and that health risks can increase with each subsequent infection. The study, published in Nature Medicine, compared the health outcomes of people who have avoided COVID-19 to people who tested positive one time and people who had two or more infections. Researchers found that people with repeat infections were 3.5 times more likely to develop lung problems, 3 times more likely to suffer heart conditions, and 1.6 times more likely to experience brain conditions than patients who had been infected with the virus once. “During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started to referring to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., a clinical epidemiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine. “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.” The study’s authors encourage people to be aware of their risks and practice vigilance going into the winter season when cases could surge. 

CDC authorizes Novavax booster for adults. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has approved the Novavax COVID-19 booster for adults age 18 and older. In her decision memo, Walensky gives these adults the option “to receive a Novavax monovalent booster instead of an updated (bivalent) Pfizer-DBioNTech or Moderna booster if they have completed primary series vaccination but have not previously received a COVID-19 booster — and if they cannot or will not receive mRNA vaccines.” This authorization comes on the heels of Novavax’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccine series being approved for ages 12 to 17 as well as for adults 18 and older. The two doses of the Novavax 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 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.”

COVID-19 emergency extended. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the COVID-19 public health emergency on Oct. 13 for the next 90 days. The public health emergency, which was first declared in January, 2020, ensures that policies like telehealth coverage, expanded Medicaid benefits and extra payments to hospitals and doctors will continue. Although CDC statistics show that COVID-19 case rates have been falling, more than 300 Americans continue to succomb to the pandemic every day and public health officials are concerned about a surge in infections this winter.

New COVID boosters could prevent up to 90,000 deaths this fall and winter. If 80 percent of Americans who are eligible for the new COVID-19 omicron boosters get the vaccine by Dec. 31, nearly 90,000 deaths and more than 936,700 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 could be prevented, a new report from the Commonwealth Fund shows. If COVID booster uptake is even equivalent to last year's flu vaccine uptake, more than 75,000 deaths and 745,409 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 could be prevented. The boosters could also save the U.S. billions in medical costs, the report finds. As of Nov. 21, about 11 percent of the eligible population has received the new booster, CDC data shows.

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 coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. 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 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. 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 at increased risk for complications from a coronavirus infection. Among the factors: ​​

  • 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. The FDA also issued an emergency use authorization (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 encourage everyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated, including people who have had COVID-19.

Once you are vaccinated, you should get boosted. The CDC recommends that people 5 and older get a new omicron-specific booster from Pfizer at least two months after their last shot; those 6 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 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, Moderna and Novavax 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. 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. Unvaccinated individuals 50 and older are 14 times more likely to 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 shows that omicron is better at sneaking around the vaccines than previous variants — so it is possible for fully vaccinated individuals to get COVID-19. This is called a breakthrough infection.​​Though 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​
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • ​Sore throat​
  • Congestion or runny nose​
  • Nausea or vomiting​
  • Diarrhea ​​

This list is not exhaustive, and 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. Most people with COVID-19 can recover at home. However, if you develop emergency warning signs — pain or pressure in the chest; 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. ​

​ 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.


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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 for at least 10 days, you should wear a mask when around others.

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; confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone. ​​

Are there treatments?​​

Yes. A few different medications are available to treat COVID-19, though this list is constantly changing as new variants emerge. With the current batch of omicron subvariants circulating, three treatments are available to patients in the U.S.: 

  • Paxlovid, a prescription oral antiviral pill
  • Veklury (Remdesivir), an antiviral medication given by IV
  • Lagevrio (Molnupiravir), a prescription oral antiviral pill 
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If you test positive for COVID-19, talk to your doctor right away about treatment options. These medications work best the sooner you start them. 

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 descendants. ​​​ Pfizer and Moderna have new boosters out that better target omicron. Health officials recommend that all fully vaccinated people 5 and older — no matter how many boosters are under their belt — get an omicron-specific booster 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.​

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


AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.


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Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.