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Updates on COVID Vaccines, Masks, Tests, Treatments

CASES, TESTS, MASKS, VACCINES & BOOSTERS:
Overall, reported cases of COVID-19 among Americans are increasing. People continue to be exposed, infected, hospitalized, and die. The U.S. reported an average of 28,531 hospitalizations and 338 deaths from COVID for the past week.

The community level of Covid-19 in Lycoming, Clinton and Union Counties is now medium based on cases and hospitalizations. The test positivity rate in Lycoming County is very high. Hospitalizations are increasing and deaths from COVID continue to be reported in all three counties. It is important to remain up-to-date with vaccinations and get tested when experiencing symptoms or after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Pennsylvania now only reports its case numbers weekly, on Thursdays.  So, don’t be fooled when you see that a county in Pennsylvania has zero new cases on other days of the week. To view any county’s COVID-19 transmission status and vaccination numbers, use the COVID Data Tracker.

F.D.A. and the C.D.C. authorized updated COVID Booster Shots for Children as young as 5, hoping to bolster protection against the now-dominant version of the virus. Pfizer’s shot will be available to children as young as 5, and to Moderna’s shot to children 6 and older.

Updated COVID-19 boosters (bivalent boosters) add Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components to the current vaccine composition, helping to restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination by targeting variants that are more transmissible and immune-evading. The new bivalent boosters are available now at River Valley Health & Dental (no appointment necessary) and many local pharmacies (check www.vaccines.gov/search/ for all local facilities offering new boosters).

The new boosters are the only boosters that will be administered at this time. These boosters target the original virus as well as the Omicron subvariants, which account for over 90% of new cases in the United States.  Scientists say the new boosters could avert between 102,000 and 160,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States and more than one million hospitalizations during a likely winter surge.

CDC community guidelines for pandemic protection in the United States are: 
People exposed to the virus no longer need to quarantine at home, whether they are vaccinated or not. 
People exposed to the virus should wear a mask (N95 is best) for 10 days and get tested for the virus on day 5 (or as soon as possible if symptoms appear), test again after an additional 2 days and test a third time after another 2 days, even if initial tests were negative. 
Individuals who test positive should mask immediately and isolate at home for at least five days.  They should follow the existing recommendations for coming out of isolation, which in all cases require masking around other people until day 10, avoiding travel, and refraining from contact with people who are immune-compromised. 

Free at-home-test kits are available from State Health Center, in Water Tower Square at 1000 Commerce Park Dr., #109, Williamsport, PA 17701. The federal government is offering a third round of free Covid test kits by mail, this time with eight rapid antigen tests, to all American households on its COVIDtests.gov website. Every home in the US can order 2 sets of 4 free at-home coronavirus tests online at www.covidtests.gov/ or 1-800-232-0233 or TTY 1-888-720-7489. Medicare and private health insurance will reimburse the cost of at-home tests at pharmacies and healthcare providers.

Vaccinations and Boosters are FREE.
Get Vaxxed & Boosted.
• If you are at at high risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions
• Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines
Get tested if you have symptoms. Here is what to do if you test positive.

Symptoms for the vaccinated are generally mild. Initial symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of a bad cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, headache and a sore throat. If you are experiencing cold-like symptoms, get tested.

River Valley Health & Dental is an official Test-to-Treat Center, providing free PCR testing with on-site treatment available to those who test positive. RVH&D is also distributing free test kits and N95 masks locally at 3 locations. Details, locations & pick-up times.

The government is making 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks available, free of charge, at community health centers and retail pharmacies across the US. The CDC recommends N95 disposable respirators, which provide greater protection against the coronavirus than their cloth or surgical counterparts. Find Free Masks here.

High-quality masks, called N95 or KF94, that are fitted to cover nose, mouth, and chin completely without any gaps, will filter out 94 or 95% of aerosols containing the COVID virus. 

VACCINES FOR CHILDREN:
The FDA and the CDC authorized Moderna’s and Pfizer’s COVID-19 reduced-dose vaccines for the youngest children, six months through 5 years. The FDA advisory panel of independent scientists voted 21 to 0 on June 16 to authorize the vaccine and the CDC voted to authorize June 17. Parents can call their pediatricians, or go to Vaccines.gov to find locations offering the children’s COVID vaccine.
FAQ on vaccines for young children.

Local cases include children and adolescents. None of the three hospitals in Lycoming County, has a pediatric ICU (so no pediatric mechanical ventilation will be possible locally), and only UPMC/Williamsport has a small inpatient pediatrics unit where children and adolescents can be treated.  Youngsters requiring critical care will need to be transferred elsewhere.

VACCINES AND PREGNANCY:
Infants whose mothers received two doses of an mRNA coronavirus vaccine during pregnancy are less likely to be admitted to the hospital for Covid-19 in the first six months of life, According to a new study from the CDC.
The CDC issued an advisory urging pregnant individuals, those planning pregnancies, or are.currently breastfeeding to get vaccinated as soon as possible, The CDC went on to warn that there is an increased risk for adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, including severe illness and death for infected pregnant and recently pregnant people, plus heightened risk of preterm and stillbirths for the infants.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), the two leading organizations representing specialists in obstetric care, recommend that all pregnant individuals be vaccinated against COVID-19.

VACCINES AND BOOSTER FACTS:
The FDA granted full regulatory approval for the Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines. The best protection against COVID-19 is to be vaccinated and boosted and to wear a properly fitted, high quality mask when in public indoor spaces.  When someone is fully vaccinated, that person is 5 times less likely to become COVID-positive, 12 times less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and 11 times less likely to die. 

Boosters provide up to seven times more antibody protection than what folks with normal immune systems typically have five months after their second mRNA shot. 
The FDA approved Pfizer booster shots for 5-15 year olds and some immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11. Boosters are recommended for everyone 5 or older who received the Pfizer vaccine at least 5 months ago, or the Moderna vaccine at least 6 months ago, or the J&J vaccine at least 2 months ago.

NEW TREATMENTS:
The FDA approved Pfizer and Merck COVID pills for high-risk patients 12 and older to defend against severe illness. The pill is not a substitute for vaccination. 97% of people hospitalized and 99% of people dying of COVID are unvaccinated. People who are substantially immunocompromised can receive long-lasting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) shots of the monoclonal antibody called Evusheld. Locally, Geisinger Medical Center in Danville administers it to eligible immunocompromised people.
Help stop the spread of COVID by getting vaccinated, boosted and wearing a high-quality mask over nose and mouth. Information for every county in the U.S. may be found on the CDC’s COVID-19 virus tracker website.

ISOLATION:
The CDC shortened the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID) transmission occurs early in the illness, usually in the 1-2 days before onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. People who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days. The CDC also recommended Moderna and Pfizer vaccines over J&J.

VACCINE CLINICS:
Mobile vaccination clinics at your organization, workplace, or faith community site can be set up with River Valley Health & Dental.
Walk-in Vaccinations are available at River Valley Health and Dental Center and Rite Aid, Wegmans, and CVS pharmacies. Discount coupons given at Rite Aid & CVS.
Transportation: Free, Pre-scheduled Transportation to COVID vaccine appointments is available from River Valley Transit, Lyft. and Uber. STEP and Rabbit Transit are providing free transportation to COVID vaccination appointments for people ages 60+ and for everyone on Medical Assistance. 

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