We understand that it can feel frustrating to still be curtailing natural social behavior and avoiding events when all of us have pandemic fatigue and are ready for a life free of COVID-19 restrictions. But even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed hope that the worst of the Omicron surge is over or soon will be, breakthrough cases of COVID-19 — infections in people who are vaccinated and boosted — are still occurring alarming rates.
As we move forward through the pandemic, it’s important to stay vigilant. After two years of COVID-19, experts agree on the best ways to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities against COVID-19.
The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to ensure that you are fully vaccinated — which now means having your initial vaccination and a booster. Being fully vaccinated offers the best possible protection against severe infection, hospitalization, and death.
But even if you are vaccinated, it’s important to remain cautious and to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. The Omicron variant is very infectious — even people who are fully vaccinated can get and spread it. And the more that COVID-19 spreads, the likelier it is to reach a vulnerable person who can’t be vaccinated due to a credible medical reason, who is too young to be vaccinated, or who has a compromised immune system that puts them at greater risk.
Decreasing the spread also means fewer hospitalizations, so hospitals are able to provide the best possible care to everyone, including people with conditions, illnesses, or medical emergencies not related to COVID-19.
Due to the high number of breakthrough cases of COVID-19, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is still recommending the following for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals:
• When indoors and in public, stay at least six feet away from other people if possible, especially if you are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccination or are at higher risk of getting sick with COVID-19.
• When at home, avoid close contact with people who are sick with COVID-19 if possible. If you are not able to do so, wear a mask until the person is no longer required to quarantine.
• It is still recommended that we all wear a mask in public, indoor settings or in areas where there is a high risk of transmission. This includes people who are two years old or older, people who are fully vaccinated with weakened immune systems, and people who are fully vaccinated without compromised immune systems and are in areas of high transmission.
• Consider wearing a mask even in low-risk situations, especially if you or someone in your household is immunocompromised.
• Avoid poorly ventilated spaces and crowds.
• If you are indoors, open windows and doors when possible to increase ventilation.
• If you are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, avoid crowded places and indoor spaces that do not have fresh air circulating from the outdoors.
• It is still important to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place.
• If soap and water are not readily available, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Make sure to cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Remember, it’s impossible to tell from symptoms alone whether someone has COVID-19 or another condition that presents similarly, such as allergies or the common cold. If you are someone you love is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, it’s best to stay home and get tested. (For more on common symptoms, read “Is It a Cold, the Flu, Allergies, or COVID-19? Comparing Symptoms of Common Respiratory Illnesses.”)
Although we’re not out of the pandemic yet, the good news is that the CDC also says that fully vaccinated people can participate in many pre-pandemic activities (with a mask if the activity is indoors), as well as resume travel with increased safety precautions.
That being said, it’s important to recognize that all of the pandemic’s social changes can have an impact on our sense of connection to others. Research consistently shows that social isolation and loneliness are major risk factors for poor physical and mental health outcomes, so it’s important to address feelings of loneliness or disconnectedness.
While these are not new health threats, the COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how much they can impact our lives. (For more on this topic, read “Don’t Go It Alone: The Dangers of Chronic Loneliness and How to Reconnect.”)
If you or someone you love is experiencing a sense of loneliness that won’t go away, the experts advise finding new ways to connect with loved ones, prioritizing self-care, and seeking professional help when necessary. Carbon Health offers virtual mental health appointments to California residents; make an appointment via carbonhealth.com or through the Carbon Health app. (If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, seek emergency medical care or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time, day or night, for free and confidential support, at 1-800-273-8255.)
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.