A more transmissible variant of the coronavirus is spreading in Idaho and around the world. But this time, more than two years of experience and research have given us the tools to fight it.
Scientists disagree on the likely impacts of BA.2 omicron subvariant in places where most people have some immunity – whether from vaccines or previous infections.
Idaho’s new COVID-19 cases are all omicron at this point. The state does not differentiate between omicron BA.1 and omicron BA.2 in its coronavirus data dashboardbut BA.2 is now the dominant coronavirus in the Northwest region that includes Idaho, as well as nationally.
One thing is clear: Idaho has resources to deal with COVID-19. Some resources are limited. Some are many. Here’s what to know about them and where to find them.
The ultimate coronavirus hack: getting vaccinated
Breakthrough cases are happening – people can still be infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated. It’s like the annual flu shot, in that sense. But with a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re less likely to get infected and much, much less likely to be hospitalized or killed.
Go to vaccines.gov/search to find the nearest vaccination site.
At this point, much of Idaho’s population has already been infected. During the first weeks of omicron spreading in Idaho in January, an estimated 47% of Idahoans have at least some antibodies from a past or current infectionaccording to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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CDC data on blood donations estimate that approximately 94% of Idahoans age 16 and older had detectable antibodies in their bloodeither by vaccination or by infection, from December.
But recovering from an earlier variant does not necessarily protect a person from variants circulating now or in the future. And subsequent infections can be more serious. To visit healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/covid-19-vaccination to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.
Federal authorities have authorized and recommended a second booster shot for some people. (Anyone age 12 and older can get a first booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.) Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director recently told NBC News that a second booster is not necessary for everyone at this point. In particular, people who have recovered from recent omicron infections likely had their immunity boosted by the coronavirus itself, she said.
About 54% of Idaho residents age 5 and older are fully immunized, according to national vaccine data. (This does not include a booster dose.) The national average is about 70% of people aged 5 and over.
Need a COVID-19 test? You can DIY or take a lab test for more accuracy
Tests that go through a lab process to find traces of the virus are more accurate than rapid home tests. Both types of tests are readily available.
The DIY option:
- Through the US Postal Service, you can receive up to eight free tests per household. Go to special.usps.com/testkits to order your tests, free of charge. They will be delivered to your address by post.
- Pharmacies and retailers are now stocking a variety of rapid COVID-19 tests. New federal rules say health insurers must cover the costs of up to eight over-the-counter tests per month, per person. However, getting reimbursed is not necessarily straightforward; your insurer may require papers and documents.
- You don’t have health insurance? As part of the federal COVID-19 response plan, community health and rural health clinics are receiving a supply of self-testing kits to distribute to uninsured people who may be at higher risk. Go to findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov to find the nearest clinic.
- If you have Medicare or Medicaid, you are entitled to a certain number of free tests per month. For example, Idaho Medicaid will pay for up to 12 tests per month, per person.
The laboratory option:
- Do not go to hospitals or emergency rooms just to take a COVID-19 test.
- Urgent care clinics, such as the Primary Health Medical Group, continue to offer lab tests, which are more accurate than home test kits.
- Find a test site near you. Your health insurance company’s website may have a directory. Castlelight Health offers an easy-to-use coronavirus test search engine:
At high risk of severe COVID-19? There is a preventative medicine
Some high-risk people 12 years and older can receive an authorized drug for pre-exposure protection against COVID-19.
The drug is called Evusheld. It is a combination of two long-acting monoclonal antibodies, tixagevimab and cilgavimab. It is generally intended for people who cannot take a vaccine for medical reasons or whose immune system is not likely to mount an adequate response to COVID-19 vaccines.
Monoclonal antibody treatments – which were created to help patients recover from COVID-19 – are no longer considered effective against the new variants. However, Evusheld is different; it can prevent infection by giving patients the protective antibodies that their own body cannot produce, according to drugmaker AstraZeneca.
You are sick and your COVID-19 test is positive. Now what?
There are a few treatment options. They are intended for people at high risk of serious illness.
While the monoclonal antibodies that were useful last year don’t seem to work against BA.2, the Recently approved monoclonal bebtelovimab has shown proof that it works. Monoclonals should be given within the first few days of illness, and they should be prescribed and administered by a health care provider.
But there are now oral antiviral drugs licensed for use as an early treatment for COVID-19 – the drugs Paxlovid and Lagevrio (molnupiravir).
Go to covid-19-therapeutics-locator-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com to see the approximate drug supply near you. (Data may be inaccurate or slow to update.)
Medications are not available over-the-counter, however – they must be prescribed and are most effective soon after symptoms appear.
Due to limited supply, health care providers should limit their use to people at high risk of severe disease.
What if COVID-19 symptoms don’t go away?
Most people will survive coronavirus disease. Most survivors make full recoveries.
But many Idahoans will have long-term problems – chronic illness or post-viral syndrome, dubbed “long COVID.” People in the latter category who become “long haulers” may need specialized health care.
Treatment options vary depending on where you live and the health care providers you have. St. Luke’s Health System operates a COVID-19 clinic in Boise that has provided care for COVID patients for a long time. Go to stlukesonline.org for more details.
Additionally, hundreds of Idahoans have found support groups on social media. To visit healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/covid-19-long-hauler for links to several online support groups and other resources for long-haul COVID-19.
Canary in the coal mine? No, it’s the coronavirus in the poop water
Trying to get ahead of a COVID-19 outbreak in your community or somewhere you plan to visit?
The labs are testing sewage samples to give cities and states an early warning system for COVID-19 surges. The amount of coronavirus ‘discharged’ into human waste can vary depending on many factors – but when the concentration of virus in municipal sewage rises, it usually means the region is about to see an increase in COVID-19 testing. 19 positive.
The CDC maintains a national map at covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker using state and municipal data. It includes two wastewater testing sites in Ada County and one in Latah County.
State and local governments also have their own data.
Go to cityofboise.org to view Boise wastewater data. On Monday, the numbers were at their lowest since last summer.