The Covid-19 pandemic may have faded from memories as life largely returned to normal this year, but with fall and winter looming, the virus, which has mutated in the form of several variants and subvariants, may be poised for a comeback.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved two updated Covid-19 booster shots last week, one from Moderna for people 18 and older, the other from Pfizer for those 12 and older. As people spend more time indoors and at events such as weddings and holiday gatherings, medical professionals are urging people to get the new “bivalent” booster shot, which protects against both the original strain of the virus and the now-dominant BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
The new booster shots are already becoming available at pharmacies, physicians’ offices, and other sites: two days ago, the Walgreens pharmacy chain was offering appointments for the booster shots starting yesterday in Mattituck and starting on Tuesday in Bridgehampton.
Those whose last vaccine dose was at least two months ago have been encouraged to obtain a new booster shot. Those who have had Covid-19 are advised to wait at least one month after being infected. Adults must have had an initial series of vaccines to be eligible for the booster shot.
In East Hampton Town, the CareONE Concierge testing site on Stephen Hand’s Path in Wainscott continues to register high positive infection rates. “I see the total numbers of residents testing have dropped,” Dr. Jason Cavolina of CareONE told The Star, “but the percent positive is still high. This may be selection bias. That is, the population who is testing may only be testing because they don’t feel well. Thus, driving the positive numbers.”
During the week of Aug. 29, three among 21 tests conducted were positive, an infection rate of 14.3 percent, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday. During the previous week, the positive infection rate was 20 percent, based on seven positive cases among 35 tests. In the week of Aug. 15, the rate was 21.62 percent based on 37 tests conducted.
In the week of Aug. 8, just 1 of 37 tested was positive, a rate of 2.7 percent. That statistic, however, is an anomaly over the last 16 weeks: since the week of May 8, it is the only span in which the positive infection rate was below 11.1 percent.
At Stony Brook University Hospital, the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has remained steady throughout the summer, said Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. The number has not surpassed 100, nor has it fallen below 50, she said last week. “Invariably, the ones admitted have either none or one dose” of a Covid-19 vaccine, she said. “We’re not seeing fully vaccinated adults coming in to the hospital.” Those considered fully vaccinated have had two doses of a primary vaccine series plus at least one booster.
“I think that any adult who qualified for the current booster should consider getting the new one,” Dr. Nachman said, “because we really want them to be in the best immunological shape to handle the next Covid event.” The strategy behind the bivalent boosters is that “you will make good antibodies to both” the original and subvariant strains, which “will be much more effective at protecting you.”
While the “next Covid event” may not be a foregone conclusion, “I do suspect we will have a significant respiratory season” in the fall and winter, she said. Given the number of people who have had Covid-19 infection recently, there is a degree of immunity against reinfection, but “as time progresses and winter gets worse and keeps people indoors more,” with no ventilation provided by open windows, there is likely to be “not only more Covid, but other viruses circulating.”
These include influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., a standalone virus that presents much like Covid-19 and influenza. “The juxtaposition of all three at once, with symptoms that look the same, will be very difficult for us to handle,” Dr. Nachman said.
Given Long Island’s demographics — Suffolk County’s median age was 41.7 in 2020, and Nassau County’s was 41.9 — getting the new booster shot is particularly important, Dr. Nachman said. “Even if they’ve gotten three doses and haven’t gotten a fourth, they should,” she said of older adults, “because they are incredibly high-risk for the next variant after Omicron. This will bring them up to speed, antibody-wise.”
Pregnant women should also get the new booster, she said, to protect both themselves and their unborn children. She expressed agitation at what she said is rampant misinformation. “It is the Covid that is dangerous,” she said. “It’s a bit of a worry for me, the idea that by not getting vaccinated you’re protecting the child.” The opposite is true, she said.
There are no plans to return to indoor masking in schools, the governor said earlier this summer. Nonetheless, if a child has a mild respiratory illness and must attend school, “ask them to wear a mask for a few days,” Dr. Nachman said. That, she said, will both protect other children and those working in office settings with their parents. “There is no downside to wearing a mask for a few days.”
For public settings like supermarkets, “if you are absolutely healthy and up to date and decide not to wear a mask, I understand,” she said. “But if you’re coming home to your newborn or elderly parent with C.O.P.D.,” or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, “maybe you should.”
“For those planning family events like weddings, people might wear masks for two weeks before, so you’re not missing it, or getting everyone sick,” she added. “Being reasonable about what you and your friends are doing is critical.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc seconded that advice on Tuesday. “Covid is still with us,” he said. “Please take precautions. If you feel symptomatic, stay away from others.”
At-home Covid-19 test kits are still offered for free at Town Hall, limited to two kits per person. The CareONE Concierge test site at 110 Stephen Hand’s Path is open on Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.