How Do We Live With COVID-19?

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For a while now, experts have been predicting that COVID-19 will never go away—that it will always be around in some form, that we’ll have to adjust to a new normal. But how do we live with COVID-19?

“It’s a tricky situation,” says Jennifer Burgess, D.O., a primary care physician at Henry Ford Health. “Living with COVID-19 involves making a lot of risk-benefit decisions. It also means taking into account your mental health and quality of life.”

Living with COVID-19 can look different depending upon your health and vaccination status. Here, Dr. Burgess shares tips to living with COVID-19, depending upon your risk level. 

If you are up-to-date on your vaccinations

In general, if you have a healthy immune system and you’re fully vaccinated, you can feel safe living your life while taking a few precautions:  

  • Continue to wear a mask in public. That includes at the grocery store, work, while on public transportation or at an event. KN95 and surgical masks are best.
  • If you go to a large sporting event or concert, know that you’ll be safer if the venue requires masks, proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID-19 test.  
  • Have COVID-19 test kits on hand. The government is giving out four, free at-home tests to every household in the country, so you can test yourself if you have symptoms, if you’ve had a known exposure to COVID-19, or before meeting up with friends. “While tests aren’t 100% accurate, they will at least afford some level of confidence,” says Dr. Burgess.   

Regardless of your personal safety level, you should also think about who you’re exposing. “If you live with a loved one who is immunocompromised, for example, the risks of going to an event may outweigh the benefits,” says Dr. Burgess.   

If you have kids under 5 years old 

The COVID-19 vaccines are still in clinical trials for children under five, so they aren’t able to get vaccinated yet. “Children aren’t as high risk as adults, but they can develop a rare, serious condition called MIS-C, in which their organs become inflamed,” says Dr. Burgess. “At the same time, getting kids back into preschool and daycare is important for socialization and preventing developmental delays.”

So, how do parents navigate this new world, as some schools are easing up on mask mandates? 

  • If you can, have your child wear a mask in school. “Although you don’t know how long they’ll be able to wear it—or if they’ll wear it properly all day—it will give them some protection,” says Dr. Burgess.
  • Reduce their exposure by keeping them out of grocery stores and other public places where they don’t need to be.
  • Make sure their older immediate family members are vaccinated.
  • Weigh the risks and benefits of playdates. “If you’re comfortable doing so, check the vaccination status of any adults and older kids who will be there,” says Dr. Burgess. “Have an open line of communication with other adults and stay away if anyone is sick or has had a known exposure. And when the weather permits, getting together outside is always safer than inside.”  

If you have a weakened immune system

Navigating life with COVID-19 when you have a weakened immune system can be challenging. Again, Dr. Burgess says to weight the risks and benefits before going out. Here are a few guiding principles:

  • Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. If you have a compromised immune system, this means you’ve had three doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine plus a booster, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine plus a booster.  
  • Continue to wear masks in public. Surgical and KN95 masks are best.
  • If you can, stay away from crowds. “Being in a crowd is high risk, especially since many people have become lax about wearing masks,” says Dr. Burgess. Plan to run errands on off hours when there might not be as many people around.   
  • Ensure that those closest to you are fully vaccinated.
  • Before attending a small gathering, know who will be there. A small gathering will be safest if everyone is fully vaccinated and hasn't been recently exposed to COVID-19.   

If you are elderly or have a disability that makes you more susceptible to COVID-19

Those who have certain disabilities, along with those who are older, are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19, but there’s not yet a recommendation for them to receive a fourth shot, as there is for those who are immunocompromised. Keep an ear out for when the fourth shot is approved, and in the meantime, take these precautions:

  • Avoid big crowds. Try to grocery shop or run errands during off hours when there won’t be a lot of people around. 
  • Wear a mask in public. Again, KN95 and surgical masks are best.
  • Before seeing someone, know what their vaccination status is and whether they've had a known exposure to COVID-19.
  • Be cautious about the situations you put yourself in. “Although the Omicron variant seems to be less severe than Delta or the original strain of COVID-19, complications can still arise,” says Dr. Burgess.

As it stands, our new normal could change again—and with any luck, it will turn into an endemic that poses less risk than a pandemic. “It’s too early to tell, but there’s a chance that COVID-19 could eventually become something like the seasonal flu,” says Dr. Burgess. “If it does, maybe we’d just wear masks during COVID-19 and flu season, which other countries have done even before COVID-19. Hopefully the same thing will happen with COVID-19.” 

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Henry Ford offers COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to established patients. Appointments can be scheduled in MyChart. For updates on booster guidelines and availability of vaccines by age group, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs.  

Dr. Jennifer Burgess is a family medicine doctor seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Commerce Township.

Categories: FeelWell