How to prepare for future waves of COVID-19

The initial Omicron surge has receded significantly. More people have some level of protection against COVID-19, from vaccination or following recovery from a recent infection, than at any time in the past two years. But the pandemic has not ended, and it‘s difficult to predict how COVID-19 will affect our lives in the future. But we can do our best to prepare for what may come, much like we prepare for storms or wildfires. There are simple steps we can take to better protect ourselves and our family in the event of a future COVID-19 surge, times of high community spread or a when someone gets sick with COVID-19.   

Cases are relatively low now compared to the Delta and Omicron surges. We are seeing a slight rise in cases due to the BA.2 Omicron subvariant recently but it “is not anticipated to have much of an impact on hospitalizations,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist. Sidelinger is optimistic Oregon will not experience high community spread this summer once we get past BA.2, but it’s impossible to predict what future variants are on the horizon.  We also do not know how long immunity gained from vaccinations or infections during Omicron will last.  

Now is the time to develop a plan. Keep high-quality masks, COVID-19 tests and a thermometer in your home.  The best way to be prepared for what comes next is to be up to date on your vaccinations
People who are immunocompromised, 50 years of age and older or received both a primary and booster dose of Johnson & Johnson are now eligible for a second booster dose of an mRNA vaccine four months after their first booster dose. “The second booster dose is most important for people who are furthest out from their last vaccine, those who are older and those more at risk for serious conditions,” said Sidelinger. People who have questions should contact their health care provider or call 211 if you do not have a health care provider. 

Know your risk and be prepared to take additional precautions: If you or someone you live with or care for are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19,  you may make different decisions or take additional precautions, such as wearing a well-fitting mask around others, even during this time of lower community spread. 
Keep an eye on community spread: You do not need to be fixated on daily numbers, but be aware of how much COVID-19 there is in your community, as well as in locations you are traveling to,” Sidelinger said. “We should all be prepared to take additional precautions, such as wearing a well-fitting mask around others,  if cases increase or a more severe variant arrives, and now is the time to think about what that entails.”  

Keep high-quality masks at home: Even if you are not currently wearing a mask you should have well-fitting masks available so you are prepared “if the situation changes or you find yourself in a situation where you feel more comfortable wearing a mask,” said Sidelinger.  

Keep COVID-19 tests at home: Be prepared to test yourself or those in your household when sick. “If you are someone who is an older adult or you are someone who has chronic conditions who is at higher risk for complications then think about how you are going to access testing if you get sick,” Sidelinger said.  “If you test positive and are eligible for COVID medication then how will you access that medication?”  

Every home in the United States is eligible to receive two sets of four free at-home testing kits.  
Have a plan if you or someone in your home tests positive: Many of us already have experience with this over the past two and a half years. Think about what you will do now in the event you or someone in your home needs to stay away from others and isolate. 

  • Are you able to stay in a separate part of your house from the rest of your family? 
  • If you are sick, if you are the caretaker of someone, whether a child or older adult, is someone available to help care for them while you are sick and in isolation?  
  • If your child gets sick and is sent home from school or childcare, or for some reason school or childcare cannot operate because of case numbers, do you have a plan to care for your child? 
  • If you live in a multi-generational household or with someone who is vulnerable to severe illness, do you know how you will keep everyone protected? Check out this chart for more tips. 

If you’re at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, have a conversation with your health care provider now: Connect with your health care provider and discuss if you are eligible for early treatment  in the event you become infected with COVID-19 and what the process will be like. You may also be a candidate for the COVID-19 prevention medication Evusheld if you are unable to be vaccinated. 
If you do not have a health care provider, contact a local community health center or call 211. “Establishing that connection now is important,” Sidelinger said. 

Seek routine check-ups, treatment or other preventive care, including vaccinations, you may have delayed during the pandemic: If you have avoided or delayed getting health care over the past two years due to fears of catching COVID-19, now is the time to make an appointment. Early identification and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes is critical in effectively treating these ailments.