To listen to the Show Me Today interview with Dr. Steven Lawrence, click below (13:35).
Missouri is in the same boat as much of the nation with its spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis, said most of the state has high levels of transmission.
“This is something that hasn’t just suddenly appeared. It’s not a big, big spike like we saw in January when Omicron hit, but it’s been something that’s been sustained for a couple of months. The virus is getting a little smarter but fortunately it’s not getting more dangerous,” he said. “It also manifests as being able to cause infection again sometimes weeks or months after you recently had it. And so, what that allows us is to still lean on our vaccines, to be able to protect us from serious illness. If we had everybody fully up to date on vaccines with the recommended boosters for their age and health status, the risk of serious illness, the number of hospitalizations would be extremely, extremely low. For protecting versus just becoming infected, the really the best way to do that is to wear masks when you’re indoors around other people because the reality of this virus as it’s becoming smarter, it’s becoming trickier. So for those who want to protect themselves from getting seriously ill, you get the vaccine. If you want to protect yourself from getting infected at all, you wear a mask.”
Lawrence said even higher cases of COVID-19 are expected by the fall.
“We’ve had fairly high levels that have been sustained for a couple of months. And it’s important to know that because then it allows people to take the measures that they need to if they want to avoid becoming infected. At some point in the next several months, we will very likely have new vaccine options that very specifically target the omicron and its sub variants so that it would actually give even more protection against even milder infection cases,” said Lawrence.
He said the virus is becoming better at getting around defense systems from vaccines and prior infection.
“It is still absolutely clear that if you are say somebody who has high risk for complications of COVID and you’ve not been vaccinated BA.5 could make you really sick, but for those who have been vaccinated, BA.5 may still cause some mild illness if you get exposed but the chances of getting really sick are extremely low for those who’ve been vaccinated,” he said.
He said the COVID-19 tests are working just as well for the sub variants of Omicron just as they did with the original Omicron virus and earlier version.
“We shouldn’t be too concerned about the ability of the virus to not be detected from what we’re used to,” said Lawrence. “Now, that being said, there are still some limitations on how well the tests work there. The rapid antigen test that right now most people are using to find out if they have infection or not, it is really good at detecting infection when it gets to a point where you’re really contagious to others but it does happen relatively frequently that you’ll miss early cases with it. So, it could be negative while you still have COVID in the early stages. And so, a negative test on that rapid antigen is something that doesn’t absolutely rule out the possibility that you have COVID but it does make it less likely that you have it at enough of a level to pass it on to others. For those who have some symptoms though, and or they’ve been exposed to somebody recently, taking a first negative test would not be a reason to just abandon all precautions. Instead, it would be a good idea to continue to wear a mask around other people and then test again in one or two days. And then if both of those are negative, you can feel more comfortable that those symptoms that you’re having might be something else besides COVID.”
According to Lawrence, the number of coronavirus cases are being underreported. He said that’s due to a couple of reasons – fewer media reports, changes in how home testing is done and changes in how health departments are reporting tests.
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