By Dr. George Terwilliger, Grace Cottage Hospital Chief Medical Officer
Is it time to relax our COVID-19 prevention protocols? That depends.
After more than two years, the COVID pandemic appears to be easing up. While the virus is still circulating, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased.
The decreased rate of deaths may be due to a variety of reasons. It is possible that the virus has evolved to become less deadly, but that is not certain. More importantly, vaccinations have conferred significant protection from severe illness. Also, most people in the U.S. (although not in Vermont, yet) have had a COVID infection, which also gives some protection against the virus’s ill effects. It is thought that over the next few months, most people in Vermont will have become infected with the virus at some point.
While the risk of death from COVID infection has declined for most of us, those with risk factors (those who are unvaccinated, are older than 65, and/or have immune system problems, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, obesity, and other health issues) are still at heightened risk of having a bad outcome if infected, even if they have already had COVID or are immunized.
If you are in this high-risk group, reach out to your health care provider to ask about available treatments as soon you get a positive test result. Treatment works best within the first five to 10 days of illness and can reduce the chance of being hospitalized by up to 88%.
There are different types of treatments available. Your health care provider will help determine which one is right for you. If you do not have a health care provider, you can call (802)365-4331 to make an appointment to see one of the Grace Cottage Family Health providers. If you feel very ill, go to the nearest emergency room.
The most effective antiviral pill, Paxlovid, is available at many pharmacies. This pill can help your body fight COVID by preventing the SARS-CoV-2 virus from multiplying and by strengthening the immune system. Your medical provider and pharmacist will help determine whether this or another treatment is right for you and how to take it.
Another effective treatment option is a monoclonal antibody designed to help the immune system recognize and respond better to the virus. This treatment consists of an injection that must be given in an infusion center and is available at all local hospitals in southern Vermont. This needs to be ordered by a provider after screening. An observation period is required and the entire process can take 2-3 hours.
There is no cost to anyone for the COVID-19 therapeutics themselves, but there may be administration fees for infusions.
Most people who get COVID have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. If you are one of these, stay home. Rest and stay hydrated. Take over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen, to help you feel better.
Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Call your medical provider if you have trouble breathing, pain or pressure in your chest, or if you think for any reason it is an emergency. Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis if possible. Do not visit public areas and do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask.
If you do not have a health care provider or have other questions, go to COVID.gov or call their Call Center at 1-800-232-0233.