5 Things to know about COVID-19 in 2023
It’s been three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and, thankfully, much has changed. Vaccines and boosters have been developed that have significantly lowered hospitalizations and deaths; oral medications have been developed for high-risk patients; and the virus variants now circulating appear to be weaker than the original virus.
It’s all good news, says Cambria Hembree, MD, an internal medicine specialist with Edinger Medical Group. Still, she warns, now is not the time to let down our guard.
“I think we’re at a lull, and hopefully this is a trend in terms of our fight against COVID-19. But with this disease all over the world, variants can happen anywhere, and we need to be really careful about what our future looks like with this virus,” she says.
Here, Dr. Hembree outlines the things we should know about the current state of COVID-19.
Symptoms are milder
The current predominant subvariants – BA 2, 4 and 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – continue to be dominated by sore throat, fever, cough, runny nose, body aches and fatigue. For most people, the symptoms are milder than with previous COVID-19 variants, Dr. Hembree notes, especially if they’ve been vaccinated.
“Currently, at Edinger Medical Group, we have no patients hospitalized for COVID-19, but many patients are screening positive when admitted to the emergency room, and they don’t know they have it,” she says. She notes that the inability to taste and smell that used to distinguish COVID-19 from other viruses appears to be diminished with the current variants.
Because the symptoms are similar, COVID-19 may be difficult to differentiate from influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV; however, symptoms can be more severe with the flu, lasting only last a few days, whereas symptoms with COVID-19 may be milder but last longer. “It’s always a good idea to do home COVID testing if you have any of the symptoms,” she says.
Most patients can self-treat at home
Not everybody who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to see a doctor. In most cases, over-the-counter medicines such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol help alleviate the symptoms, Dr. Hembree says. Throat lozenges can help soothe a sore throat, and Robitussin DM is helpful for cough, she says, adding that staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep are both important for recovery.
However, patients who are over 65, immunocompromised, have multiple medical issues or are over 50 and not vaccinated should contact their doctor, she says. Patients who meet these criteria are candidates for Paxlovid therapy, an oral, antiviral medication that can keep high-risk patients out of the hospital.
Anybody – regardless of age or risk factors – experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion or sleepiness should see their doctor or go to an emergency room for treatment, she adds.
Quarantine times vary
Symptomatic patients are contagious for longer than patients without symptoms, Dr. Hembree says. But in general, individuals with mild or no symptoms need to quarantine at home, and do their best to stay away from others in the household, for five days. At that point, patients who have no symptoms and have been without fever for 24 hours can leave the house but should continue to mask for five days and avoid contact with high-risk people.
Individuals who have moderate to severe infection must quarantine for 10 days before leaving the house, she says. No mask is required after that.
Boosters are still recommended
According to the CDC, only 16% of people are up to date on their boosters; however, it’s important for those over 65 or at risk for complications to get a vaccine if they have not had the new bivalent and it has been more than three months since they either had COVID-19 or had a vaccine, Dr. Hembree says. “Otherwise, we are probably looking at yearly vaccines in the future.” Even those at lower risk should get the new bivalent booster, which targets the omicron variants currently circulating, she adds.
The boosters are safe and are the best way to prevent hospitalization, she says. “Every side effect from complications is still a lower risk than the high death rate we’ve seen with COVID.”
Preventative measures haven’t changed
“It might not sound exciting, but washing your hands and wearing a mask indoors and in large crowds are still the best ways to stay healthy,” Dr. Hembree explains. To keep others safe, stay home when you are sick. “And if you know you are going to see an older or immunocompromised person, consider avoiding large indoor gatherings and getting a COVID test prior to your visit.”
While social distancing is no longer mandated, transmission can still occur between unmasked people within 6 feet of one another, she notes. Masking is only required when entering a medical facility, but it’s still the best way to prevent spreading the virus, especially if you are symptomatic, Dr. Hembree says.
For more information about Edinger Medical Group or to schedule an appointment, call 714-965-2500 or visit edingermedicalgroup.com.