Keep yourself safe and healthy with these tips for COVID-19 and flu season
Experts estimate that about 95% of the U.S. population now have COVID-19 antibodies from either a previous infection or vaccination. These antibodies protect people against severe COVID-19 that can lead to hospitalization and death. As such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has streamlined its guidelines to provide a more general framework for coping with COVID-19 in a way that doesn't disrupt our daily lives.
As we move into the fall, return to school and gather for more indoor activities, experts believe we will see an increase in COVID-19 cases. Without widespread masking mandates, the potential for an intense flu season also exists. Fortunately, the same practices that protect one from COVID-19 also protect one from the flu and other common viruses that spread in the fall and winter months.
Know Your Risk
Factors like age (50+), a weakened immune system, and some underlying health conditions make people more likely to get very sick with COVID-19. We also know that certain settings and activities increase your exposure risk.
Know and understand your local COVID-19 community level. The CDC provides weekly updates using data on hospitalization and cases to assign each county a low-, medium- or high-risk level and accompanying protection measures.
Understanding the risk of COVID-19 for yourself and those around you can help you make informed decisions to keep you safe and healthy. The same risk factors also apply to the flu.
Stay Up to Date with Your Vaccines
Although some people may get the flu or COVID-19 after vaccination, the vaccines significantly lower the risk of getting very sick, being hospitalized, or dying from the flu or COVID-19. The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older get vaccinated for COVID-19.
If you have already been vaccinated for COVID-19, get a booster shot when you’re eligible to stay up-to-date on your vaccine. Booster shots are available for everyone ages 5 and older. An omicron-specific booster will be available for people 12 and older this fall to better protect against the omicron and other variants of COVID-19.
If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, check out our available resources or speak with your primary care physician (PCP).
It is also recommended that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine when they become available in the fall (usually in mid-September). The flu vaccines are generally covered under all insurance plans, and numerous community health centers offer the vaccine for free to those who do not have health insurance.
Check with your PCP if you have questions about scheduling these shots.
Get Tested for COVID-19 If Needed
Get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms. A viral test tells you if you are infected with COVID-19. There are two types of viral tests: rapid at-home tests and laboratory tests performed by a medical professional. These tests might use samples from your nose or throat or saliva. Knowing if you are infected with COVID-19 allows you to take care of yourself and take action to reduce the chance of infecting others.
The CDC's Viral Testing Tool is an online, mobile-friendly tool that asks a series of questions and recommends actions and resources based on your responses. It can help you interpret the meaning of your test result.
For more information, read our At-Home Testing Healthy You article.
Take Action If Exposed
If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you might have been infected with the virus. The CDC recommends that you immediately start wearing a high-quality mask or respirator around others in your home or indoors in public for 10 days. Day 1 is the first full day after your last exposure. Watch for symptoms, and if any develop, isolate immediately, get tested and stay home until you know the test results. If the results are positive, follow the instructions for isolation below.
On Day Six (five full days after last exposure), get tested for COVID-19. If you test negative, continue to take precautions through Day 10. You can still develop COVID-19 up to 10 days after exposure.
If you test positive, isolate yourself immediately and follow the directions below.
Stay Home When You Have Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19
If you have COVID-19, you can spread it to others, even if you do not have symptoms. If you have symptoms, get tested and stay home until you have your results. If you have tested positive (even without symptoms), follow CDC's isolation recommendations. These recommendations include staying home and away from others for at least five days (possibly more, depending on how sick you get and whether your symptoms persist) and wearing a high-quality mask when indoors around others.
You may end isolation after day five if you are feeling better (no fever without using fever-reducing medications and symptoms are improving). If you leave isolation on day five, continue to wear a mask through day 10 or test negative twice over 48 hours before you stop wearing a mask.
Seek Treatment, Especially If You are at High Risk
Effective treatments are now widely available and currently free of charge. Don't delay seeking treatment. Treatment must start within a few days after you first develop symptoms to be effective. Read more about Paxlovid in our Healthy You article. Contact your primary care provider to learn more about treatment options. If you do not have a PCP, contact your local health department or Community Health Center to learn more.
If you don't have timely access to a healthcare provider, find a Test to Treat location in your community. You can get tested, receive a prescription from a healthcare provider (either on-site or by telehealth), and have it filled all at one location.
In addition to the recommendations above, the CDC advises people to use a variety of prevention tactics to keep COVID-19 Community Levels low. When Community Levels increase, everyone should consider using these additional prevention measures more often.
- Wearing Masks or Respirators: You can still choose to wear a mask or respirator (N95 or KN95) in crowded areas or on public transportation, even if it’s not required. When wearing a mask or respirator, it is most important to choose one that you can wear correctly. It should fit closely to your face, over your mouth and nose and is comfortable for you.
- Social Distance: The closer you are to a greater number of people, the more likely you are to be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. To avoid this possible exposure, you may want to avoid crowded areas, especially indoor places with poor airflow (ventilation) or keep a distance between yourself and others.
It's everyone's responsibility to take action and prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and the flu. While we may be entering a more manageable phase of the pandemic, COVID-19 and the flu can still cause severe disease leading to hospitalization and death. Prevention remains our best course of action.