Even amid slightly higher COVID numbers, local doctors endorse return to normal life
Dr. Gregson Pigott went to the movies this week.
While the activity would be considered mundane in 2019, the decision to go to the theater to catch a flick is yet another example of how local doctors, or, in this case, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, is practicing what he preaches.
“We need to learn to live with the virus,” said Pigott, who has also been to a few Brooklyn Nets basketball games. Pigott, who is not using a mask except in situations where it is required, such as on a plane or on public transit, suggested people are “trying to resume life as it was pre-COVID.”
While the percentage of positive tests has risen, the numbers haven’t raised any alarm bells.
The percentage of COVID positive tests increased to a seven-day average of 2.6% as of April 2, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health.
That figure is higher than it had been in the weeks prior, when the percentage dipped below 2%.
“I certainly expected this,” Dr. Sean Clousten, associate professor of Public Health at Stony Brook University explained in an email. “I suspect this increase is due to unmasking at public schools because many kids who are infected are asymptomatic or the symptoms are different.”
Pigott said the current symptoms for the newer variant of omicron, called BA.2, which is becoming the dominant strain across the country and through much of the world, includes stuffy noses, scratchy throat and a slight cough.
Clousten added that the symptoms can also appear more like a bad stomach bug.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a second booster for people over 50 and for those who are immunocompromised and who had a first booster more than four months ago.
Pigott said he would urge people who are over 65 or those who are immunocompromised to consider getting another jab.
“Most of the general population is fine with the three-shot regimen,” Pigott said. “Your body will recognize any kind of COVID infection and deal with it quickly.”
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, indicated in an email that Stony Brook has been “advocating for switching vaccines.”
Switching vaccines could mean triggering a different response to the shot for the second booster, Nachman added.
Data about a second booster shows that the shot provides “good protection” against serious COVID, Nachman said. “Will it protect against any infection (meaning you might get a runny nose, cough or upper respiratory infection)? Not really.”
Nachman urged people to consult with their primary care doctor to decide whether to take a booster. What people are doing and where they are going can and should affect that decision.
Finally, daily activities such as going back to a crowded office or starting to take New York City transit could be “excellent reasons” to get a booster, she said.
Nachman plans to get a booster, although she is working on the best timing for another shot.
“Before I travel abroad is key to making sure I have my booster and am protected,” Nachman added.
Nachman is encouraged that people are returning to in-person conferences and other activities.
“It will be great to have people starting to get back to routine living, and that means being with other people,” she explained in an email.
She urged people to stay at home if they don’t feel well.
“Now is not the time to push to go to that meeting or get together with extended family, since you might just be responsible for getting someone else sick,” she explained.
She suggested people should be patient and understanding of others who choose to wear masks or continue to practice social distancing.
“Don’t shame anyone who is wearing a mask,” Nachman advised. “If that is what it takes to get them together with you in public, go for it.”
In another sign of a return to a pre-pandemic life, Pigott suggested that the Health Department was planning to direct more resources to tracking illnesses like Lyme disease.