The past two months have seen a new wave of COVID-19 infections in New York City and across the country. While infections and deaths had been in decline infections in New York City are trending upwards again and health officials have cautioned the public to begin preparing for future surges and variants. Recently Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine held a livestreamed public event with Dr. Dara Kass, MD of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to discuss what New Yorkers can do to prepare themselves and what new and existing resources are available.
The past two years have seen shifting guidelines and procedures and Dr. Marvin Figueroa, director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who also participated, began the conversation by acknowledging the hard work that the virtual audience has done and continue to do in order to keep themselves, their families, and their neighbors safe.
Dr. Kass acknowledged her own frustration that “we still need to do this” as she began a conversation about the COVID-19 variant BA.2. She also discussed the difference between BA.2 and BA.1, noting that BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1. Kass spoke about the fact that “people who get BA.2 after being vaccinated and boosted generally have a relatively short course of the illness. They find themselves positive on a rapid test. They have a sore throat, a stuffy nose, some fatigue.” Kass also told the audience that they should get tested if they start to develop symptoms and that everyone should have rapid tests in their homes.
New Yorkers can find locations of where to pick up free rapid tests by calling 311 or visiting: www.nychealthandhospitals.org/covid-19-testing-sites/ and can schedule an at-home test by calling (929) 298-9400 between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. seven days a week.
Kass addressed a specific area of concern for people, and an area that has been a topic of discussion is how people can have symptoms of COVID but not actually test positive for COVID.
“That’s your immune system at work. . . before you have enough measurable virus in your system to have that positive test turn positive. . . fortunately, when that rapid test is still negative. . . it is unlikely that you’re contagious. . . if your rapid test is positive, you are likely infectious and you want to remove yourself from interacting with other people.” Levine and Kass referenced several resources for people including COVID.gov which is available for people to get information and also order at-home COVID tests.
One of the keys for communities in terms of avoiding hospitals and death is the vaccine. The FDA has approved individuals over the age of 12 who did not receive the mRNA vaccine to now be eligible for the booster 5 months after their mRNA vaccine and 2 months after the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
Levine and Kass also provided information about therapeutics, specifically two outpatient treatments: monoclonal antibodies and oral antiviral pill packs. With respect to the pill packs, Kass spoke about the fact that these medications are taken like a Z-pack course of antibiotics, and individuals take a 5 day course of pills. There’s a decreased risk of hospitalization and death for those that test positive for COVID, and pill packs are effective within 5 days of the onset of COVID. They are best used early in the course of the disease.
New Yorkers can call 212-COVID19 to receive free, same-day delivery of the antiviral medication Paxlovid. New Yorkers can also go to https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-symptoms-chronic-health-risks.page to request same-day delivery.
The conversation also took a look at issues around Long COVID and COVID in children. Kass suggested that children above five should be vaccinated because this is the best protection for them. Regarding Long COVID, Kass stated that, “Long COVID is one of those diseases we will have to understand more and more. It’s going to be a new illness that we’re going to have to understand more and more… It’s going to take time.”
“Regarding where we go as a nation and what the future is for the COVID pandemic, the United Kingdom was referenced in the talk as a ‘bellwether’ for the United States. The UK has been experiencing a surge for several weeks, with the wave having a detrimental impact on the people and health system of the UK. As to whether the United States will follow the path of the UK, Levine asked Kass: “Will this be our last COVID wave?” To which Kass stated “No.”
Kass ended the session on a positive note, stating “we are not in the same moment now that we were two years ago . . . we are prepared as a city to address this pandemic with knowledge and the confidence that we are going to take care of each other and we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done in the past and we are going to stick together and I think we’re going to be okay. I really do.”For additional resources around COVID-19 please visit www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/index.page or call 311 to learn where you can get tested and how you can receive medication.