Most of us have enjoyed some gatherings during the holiday season. We all wanted to put our worries behind us as we closed the book on 2022 and opened the fresh pages of 2023.
However those good feelings didn’t last very long for all too many. Here in the east, for the past month, emergency rooms, clinics, urgent care centers, and doctors’ offices have been bustling with people wanting to define why they were miserable. Was it the flu, RSV, a cold, or COVID-19?
Some friends traveled to spend the holidays with their grandchildren. They stayed at motels and ate at restaurants along the way. Upon returning, friends visited. The next day one of the couple was not feeling their best. The diagnosis was COVID-19, but of course there was no way to undo the gathering of the previous evening. Soon both were ill and some of the others who were exposed at the welcome home party later tested positive for COVID-19.
Hindsight is always 20/20 they say. So what are the things they could have or should have done?
- First: everyone should have used a home test before attending gatherings to be sure they did not have COVID. This test works even if you are asymptomatic.
- Everyone should wear a mask in places where they are not sure that all people around them are safe (both in public or private spaces.)
- If you can be vaccinated and boosted, this is the best way for you to keep yourself from getting COVID-19. Should you become infected, your case will be less severe than it would have been without getting your shots. (Note: After taking the vaccines you need to get only the most recent booster.)
- This is the time of year for many vaccines and you need to be up to date with them! Flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19 have vaccines, but RSV. as well as the common cold do not. All are attacking us and whatever we can do to slow down the spread and limit our involvement is a win – win.
- Wash your hands and use sanitizer as often as possible.
- If you are not feeling well the day of an event, stay home; don’t risk spreading whatever you have.
The first weeks of the new year had enough COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals in Lycoming County to push the community level for our community to high. At that level the CDC recommends indoor public masking to help slow the spread. We have now returned to the medium level, where the CDC recommends masking any time you think you need extra protection. (Remember, protection works both ways—protecting yourself protects people around you.)
COVID-19 is still out and about. It is constantly looking for another person to infect (unmasked and unvaccinated people are most at risk) but COVID-19 is pretty sneaky and keeps adapting, or mutating. That is to be expected.
A new subvariant (XBB.1.5) is slightly different from its relatives, because it not only evades protective antibodies, it also is better at binding to cells. That means healthy adults are more likely to be infected, even after vaccination or after a person has had a different COVID variant.
But the vaccines, boosters, and infections provide double protection. If the new variant sneaks around the initial blockade our cells have learned to put up, then our immune system can still come to our defense, according to Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious disease physician and immunology researcher at David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Our T cells should be able to recognize the main part of the virus spike protein,” said Dr. Yang. “And because T cells remember how to respond to the coronavirus based on what they’ve learned from previous encounters or vaccines, they can mount an attack quickly if you do become infected. They are what prevent severe illness. People who are up to date on their vaccines and who get treatment early with Paxlovid or with remdesivir are going to do fine, for the most part.” (Paxlovid is an oral antiviral medication, and remdesivir is an injectable one.)
As Dream Week culminates, I would like to share with you my dream for this pandemic time. I have a dream that this year the people who live right here in Lycoming County and Central Pennsylvania will do everything they can to make sure our area is as safe from COVID-19 as possible.
I have a dream that soon all people everywhere will be able to work together, play together, and enjoy life together, trusting each other to do what is necessary to make an abundant life possible for themselves and for us all.
The Rev. Gwen Bernstine serves as pastor of Lycoming Presbyterian Church, Willliamsport, and is a member of Let’s end COVID!