While this pandemic has proven far too unpredictable for reliable projection, it’s reasonable to assume that the actual rate of new infections, already at its highest-ever level, will significantly worsen in a few weeks when reopened schools accelerate community spread and Canadians spend more of their together time indoors. That seasonality is strongly evidenced by, for the first time ever, New Zealand’s COVID death rate having exceeded ours for three consecutive months. They’re grappling with the same variant. Yet, despite better vaccination, superior leadership, some masking restrictions still in effect and public health authorities who continue to do their jobs free from muzzling by their political superiors, BA.5 hit more severely there. The key difference is that they’ve been in winter. As our summer ends with governments having not only washed their hands of the pandemic but also cut off the flow of up-to-date, reliable information on infection rates, it’s now entirely upon us to do what we can to protect ourselves and our families against even worse outcomes.
Following are a few of the common-sense actions which you can choose to do:
- Maintain your immunity to the extent possible by signing up for additional booster shots as soon as you are eligible and be among the first to adopt newer, Omicron-formulated vaccines as soon as they are approved and become available.
- Buy and consistently wear well-fitting N95 masks in all settings where you will be in close indoor contact with anyone other than close family.
- Where possible, avoid restaurants, bars, gyms, concerts, public meetings, personal care appointments, etc.
- Work from home if possible.
- Urge the merchants you frequent to require their employees to be masked.
- Purchase a supply of rapid antigen test kits and use them within one to two days of every possible exposure.
- Self-isolate on becoming symptomatic and stay isolated after the symptoms recede for at least 10 days or until you either receive a negative PCR test result or test negative with antigen tests for two consecutive days [click here to view the current, less stringent, official Ontario recommendations]
- If you must share work or study space with people who are not consistently masked, consider utilizing a HEPA-grade air cleaner in that space.
Sadly, all of the above are unlikely to keep your household safe if you have school-age children. In the few weeks remaining, you might consider contacting their home-room teacher to ask whether they and/or your children would be allowed to wear masks while indoors. If not, is online learning still an option? Will their classrooms have HEPA air filtering? If not, would it be possible for you, perhaps in collaboration with other parents, be able to buy one or more of those ~$350 units for loan to the school [click here for a calculator to determine how many would be needed]?
If you are symptomatic and you’re over 70 years old, over 60 with fewer than three vaccine doses or over 18 with fewer than three does and at least one of a list of risk conditions, you may qualify for a Paxlovid or similar anti-viral prescription to help prevent your symptoms from worsening. But you’ll need to contact your doctor quickly because you must first have a positive PCR or antigen test. Be aware that, with Paxlovid and BA.5, it’s common for the symptoms to quickly recede and then rebound a few days later.