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Area doctors answer questions about COVID

Hubbard County is experiencing a medium rate of community transmission of COVID-19, according to the most recent COVID tracker report of Aug. 4.

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Area doctors recommend getting boosted now, especially for those at higher risk of serious illness.
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Hubbard County is experiencing a medium rate of community transmission of COVID-19, according to the most recent COVID tracker report of Aug. 4.

While that’s down from the high rate of transmission previously reported, Dr. Michele Thieman of Essentia Health in Park Rapids says the exposure risk may actually be higher.

Symptoms of the BA.5 variant include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, headache, muscle pain and fatigue.

“Many people are performing at-home tests only, and that data is rarely reported to the CDC, county or state, so you should assume the transmission levels are significantly higher than recorded,” Thieman said. “In addition, surrounding counties, including Beltrami, Clearwater and Otter Tail, are at high levels of transmission.”

As of Aug. 8, data on the Minnesota Department of Health website showed only 11,608 (55.2%) of Hubbard County residents had received at least one vaccine dose and only 10,958 had completed the vaccine series with 3,812 fully boosted.

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Socializing and vacationing

As the Labor Day holiday approaches, many families are planning vacations to enjoy the last days of summer before school begins.

Dr. Shayla Hesse is a physician with Sanford Health in Bemidji. She said it is up to each individual to assess the amount of risk they are willing to accept.

“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how much to limit activities which may expose you and your family to COVID-19,” she said. “The amount of risk you are willing to accept may depend on the likelihood that you will develop more severe disease, if infected. For example, if you are immunocompromised, elderly, unvaccinated and/or have chronic medical conditions, you are at increased risk to develop more severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19. This may lead you to take more precautions than someone who is young, healthy, vaccinated and lives alone.”

Hesse said outdoor activities are generally safer than indoor ones, and smaller gatherings are better than larger ones.

“In addition, maintaining six feet of distance from individuals outside of your household and wearing a well-fitted mask have been shown to help protect you as well as other people,” she said.

Thieman said most people do not need to wear a mask outdoors. “If it's very crowded, you may want to reconsider,” she said.

According to the CDC, when COVID community transmission rates are low, the guidance is to wear a mask based on personal preference and level of risk.

When transmission rates are medium, those at higher risk for severe illness or who live or gather with someone at risk for severe illness should mask indoors.

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During high community transmission rates, it is recommended that anyone 2 or older wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk, including in K-12 schools and other community settings. Those at risk for severe illness should wear a mask or respirator that provides greater protection.

Guidelines for COVID positives

Thieman said the recommendation for someone who tests positive for COVID is to isolate for a full five days, with “day 1” being the first full day after symptoms started or after being tested with a positive result.

Isolation may be ended after five days, under the following circumstances:

  • fever free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications) AND symptoms are improving or
  • you never developed symptoms and you are on day 6 or 
  • 10 days minimum if you got very sick or have a weakened immune system (consult your provider for further guidance).

You should take these precautions until day 10:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask for 10 full days any time you are around others inside your home or in public. 
  • Do not travel for a full 10 days. 
  • Avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

Hesse said that any time an individual develops “emergency warning signs” for COVID-19, including trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to wake or stay awake, immediate emergency medical attention should be sought.

Start treatment early

Anyone who tests positive and is more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 has treatment options, including antivirals and monoclonal antibodies, that can reduce the chance of being hospitalized or dying. Contact your clinic or set up a virtual visit to discuss these options.

Medications to treat COVID-19 must be prescribed by a healthcare provider and need to be started as soon as possible after diagnosis to be effective.

People who are more likely to get very sick include adults over 50 years of age, people who are unvaccinated and people with certain medical conditions, such as chronic lung disease, heart disease or a weakened immune system.

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Vaccinations and boosters

Hesse said although it has been observed that BA.5, an Omicron subvariant, evades protective immunity better than previous COVID-19 variants, there is good evidence that up-to-date vaccination (with boosters) does help reduce the risk of severe disease due to BA.5 infection.

“Don’t wait to get a booster,” she said. “New COVID-19 vaccines designed to have better variant protection are in the development pipeline. However, it is not known when these will become widely available. In the meantime, you do not want to miss an opportunity to help protect yourself now.”

Current recommendations for vaccination are for all persons 6 months and older to have the first vaccine series, and all persons age 5 and older to have a booster. Additionally, persons 50 and older, as well as people age 12 and up with moderate or severely compromised immune systems, are recommended to have a second booster six months after the first booster.

Thieman said it is especially important for those who travel frequently, spend a lot of time indoors with people who do not wear masks, live with someone at high-risk for severe illness if exposed to COVID-19 or live or work in an area of medium or high transmission get boosted now rather than waiting for the fall vaccine.

CHI St. Joseph’s Health Community Health continues to hold COVID-19 walk-in clinics for both primary series and boosters for ages 12 and up. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are available from 9 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays at 1415 1st Street E. in Park Rapids.

How to get free COVID tests

Residential households in the U.S. are now eligible for the third round of free COVID-19 rapid tests made available through the federal government. Order tests on USPS.com.

Each order includes eight rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. The FDA has more details about at-home tests, including extended shelf life and updated expiration dates.Each order of eight tests will come in two separate packages with four tests in each package, each with its own tracking number.

Anyone who needs help placing an order for their at-⁠home tests may call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

RELATED COVERAGE:
Midway through the pandemic’s third year, the changing measures of the COVID-19 outbreak have made it trickier to understand how much coronavirus is circulating and the prospects for another surge.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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