Excited for her first year of college, Arianna Martinez is doing everything she can to get ready, including getting a COVID-19 booster shot.
“I want that extra level of protection,” said Martinez, 18, of Freeport, who is headed to Northeastern University in Boston. “This is a serious infection and it’s not going away. It’s going to be with us.”
With COVID-19 levels across Long Island high and distribution of an updated booster shot at least a month or two away, infectious disease experts said people can still take several steps to keep themselves safe during the remaining weeks of summer.
“The smartest thing to do is to have a nuanced approach instead of ‘one-size-fits-all,’ " said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. “Are you in a high-risk group? Will you be around someone who is immunocompromised? Will you be traveling?”
WHAT TO KNOW
- Both Nassau and Suffolk counties have high community levels of COVID-19 spread, according to the CDC.
- Certain groups of people, including those who are elderly and immunocompromised, should get their COVID-19 boosters now and not wait for the omicron-specific shot that might be available in the fall, doctors say.
- Even if you are vaccinated and boosted, wear masks on public transportation and public indoor spaces to reduce your chances of getting COVID-19, doctors advise.
Nassau and Suffolk counties both have high community levels of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of new positive test results has hovered near 10% for most of July, and that figure doesn’t include the countless home tests not reported.
The number of reinfections, people who have tested positive 90 days or more after first testing positive, also increased across Long Island for July. Those figures included 2,012 reinfections just for the week of July 18.
“The numbers are high,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine. “Anyone you speak with always has someone in their friend circle who has COVID now.”
The majority of new infections across the United States are being fueled by the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. More specifically, the omicron subvariant BA.5 is estimated to comprise more than 85% of new infections, according to the CDC.
Since the vaccines and booster shots currently available were developed from the original strain of the virus, federal officials have called on drug manufacturers to formulate updated ones that target omicron, specifically the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. The Biden administration has said those could come as early as September.
While experts say the current vaccines and boosters are less effective at preventing infections from the omicron variant and its subvariants, they are still effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalizations.
That's why some people, including Martinez, are choosing to get booster shots now rather than wait.
“I just want to be prepared,” the Freeport High School graduate said. Her university, Northeastern, also requires students to have booster shots.
Martinez was able to walk up and get her booster without an appointment at Mount Sinai South Nassau’s Vaxmobile, a mobile clinic, parked outside a Night Out Against Crime event in Freeport on Tuesday.
“I think that if you want to get the booster now and it gives you more peace of mind, that’s fine,” Glatt said.
He said the need is more urgent for high-risk groups, defined by the CDC as older adults, people with certain medical conditions and people who are immunocompromised.
“If you are in one of those groups and you haven't gotten two boosters and you haven't had COVID, I would tell you to take the booster right away,” Glatt said.
Nachman said people who are traveling overseas this summer should make sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations and booster shots.
“If you get sick while you are traveling, it’s going to be a whole lot harder for you to get medical care,” she said. “The last thing you want is to be hospitalized or wind up in an emergency room in a different country.”
Even though there is not a mandate, the CDC recommends people in areas with high community levels to wear masks when they are on public transportation and in indoor public spaces.
Nachman said people traveling domestically in the United States should wear masks while at the airport and while in an airplane even though they are no longer required. She said people also should take a rapid test once they arrive at their destination.
“There are real critical things you could do to protect yourself and whoever it is you’re visiting,” she said.
If staying close to home, Nachman said to be mindful of where you are going, especially for people who have infants, older people or people with compromised immune systems.
“Are you sure you want to go to that party and bring something home?” she said. “Are you washing your hands and staying away from crowds? People need to remember that any baby in the first four weeks of life that has a fever pretty much is an automatic hospitalization. So think about who is in the household with you and how you are going to protect them.”
That was on the mind of Evan Andersen, a 37-year-old father of four who got his booster shot at the Vaxmobile on Tuesday.
“I was thinking about when I would do it, but never prioritized the time to do it,” he said.
Andersen said he was aware the omicron-specific booster was in development, but said he was “fine getting what is currently available.”
“It still has a lot of value,” he said.
With Arielle Martinez