Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and those around you.
Watch for symptoms
If you have symptoms like a cough, a sinus infection or sneezing, you may or may not have COVID, but whatever you have you don’t want to spread it. So take action: Test and isolate so as not to infect others.
The Georgia DPH recommends “good respiratory hygiene.” Basically, not coughing in people’s faces.
According to the CDC, masks are still a good tool for protecting those around you from your breath. Especially at certain times: indoors, in crowds, in rooms with little ventilation. That’s helpful not only for COVID, but for other illnesses circulating like seasonal flu and RSV.
Cloth masks are insufficient at keeping out germs. Regular hospital masks are better. But the best masks commonly available for keeping out germs are N-95s or KN-95s. Respiratory infections of many kinds plummeted during the pandemic, probably because so many people were masking.
Options for getting a COVID test
COVID variants change, and different brands of tests have different quality. But many existing at-home test brands are still good at detecting COVID-19. The American Medical Association recently touted a new test by the company Lucira (advertised at $35 online) that can test for both seasonal flu and COVID. According to Andrea Garcia, a vice president at the AMA, a negative test result from that test was 100% accurate, and a positive test result was 88% likely to be accurate. (With some other tests, a positive test result is more likely to be accurate. With a negative result, it may be that the test didn’t pick up an existing infection.)
Personal test kits may be expired, so check the date.
At-home tests are in high demand and can be found, though they are no longer federally subsidized to all customers. They can also be purchased online for $10-$35, mostly averaging $25.
The Georgia DPH offers free in-person testing locations across the state. However, check the hours as they are often limited.
COVID vaccines and boosters
Being vaccinated remains an important tool to protect against COVID infection and to have milder symptoms if infected. Vaccination wanes over time. The most recent vaccine produced was the “bi-valent” one. It was not engineered to protect against the newest variants, XBB.1.5 and “eris.”
However, according to the CDC, even with the newer eris or EG.5 variant, “currently available treatments and vaccines are expected to continue to be effective against this variant.”
A new vaccine specifically against XBB.1.5 is expected in late September or early October.
A refresher: How COVID-19 tests work
When should you test? If you have symptoms, test immediately. If you do not have symptoms but have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before taking a test.
As explained by the Food and Drug Administration, there are two types of tests:
- PCR tests are the “gold standard” test done by a laboratory and are more likely to detect the virus than antigen or rapid tests. PCR test samples are usually be taken by a healthcare provider and sent to a lab. Results may take up to 3 days.
- Antigen tests are rapid tests that can be done at home and produce results in 15-30 minutes.
- Positive antigen results are very accurate and reliable. However antigen tests are less likely to detect the virus than PCR tests —especially early in an infection or in people who do not have symptoms. For that reason, the FDA recommends people who get negative results with an at-home test use multiple tests over a certain time period, such as 2-3 days.
- If your at-home antigen tests gives a positive result, it means you most likely have the virus and should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to stay home, isolate from others, and seek follow-up care with a health care provider.
- If your test gives a negative result, test again 48 hours after the first negative test, for a total of at least two tests. If you get a negative result on the second test and you are still concerned that you could have COVID, take a third test 48 hours later or consider getting a PCR lab test from a health provider.
How to find a COVID-19 test near you:
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, COVID tests are widely available at local health departments and kiosks statewide. Look up the nearest location here.