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COVID Q&A: Who's Spreading It? Should We be Masking? Your Questions Answered

We posted a call-out for Instagram users to send in questions they have about the latest COVID-19 subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5.

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“I’m over it.”

“I just don’t really pay attention to it anymore.”

“I’m ready for it all to be over and just get on with life.”

We asked people, both in-person and online, how they respond to headlines about COVID-19. In a poll posted to the @NBCSanDiego Instagram story, 62% of users who responded chose the “I’m so over it!” option and 38% users chose “We should be taking precautions right now.”

We also posted a call-out for Instagram users to send in questions they have about the latest COVID-19 subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5.

While some responses echoed those we got in-person, like one comment that said “Covid who?”, we also received many private responses to our “ask a question” Instagram story. People wanted to know if the new variants are more dangerous, if they have new symptoms and what is the best way to avoid them right now. 

We brought those questions to Dr. Abisola Olulade, M.D. with Sharp HealthCare who understands COVID fatigue. 

“It’s a completely normal reaction. We are all over it, actually. It’s not unique to one person. Unfortunately, the virus is the one thing that isn’t over it,” said Dr. Olulade.

Let's dive in.

Q: Should we still be wearing masks?

A: “Everything we use to determine whether or not COVID is spreading in the community is going in the wrong direction. We have these variants that are so transmissible that the chances of you being exposed to it at this point is probably 100%. If you’re out and about and gathering with people, there’s almost no doubt you’ll come into contact with it. So I wouldn’t wait for a mandate. I would start masking up indoors because we know that that’s really the best way to protect yourself against all of the variants, apart from the vaccines.”

Q: What are the symptoms of the new COVID-19 subvariants?

A: “We are seeing the same things. We’re seeing people that are coughing, they’re having a sore throat, they’re having congestion, they’re having fevers and this is the case with all of the different variants.”

Q: Are the new subvariants spreading because of asymptomatic people?

A: “Absolutely, yes. They are spreading in asymptomatic people. It’s definitely possible for you to have COVID and not have any symptoms, and that’s actually one of the more dangerous things about this, is that people spread it without symptoms. It also is something that super-spreads and so when people gather, many people can get infected at once. This is something that’s somewhat unique to this virus.”

Q: Do unvaccinated people spread COVID-19 more rapidly than people who are vaccinated?

A: “Yes. We do know that vaccines do, to an extent, actually reduce your chances of spreading COVID. So people that are unvaccinated, yes, spread COVID at a higher rate. So that is another reason to get vaccinated because it does decrease your chances of passing COVID on to other people.”

Q: How do you know what subvariant you’re infected with? Does it matter?

A: “We are BA.5 dominant here in San Diego County, so, of course, most of the tests we would expect are related to BA.5. We do sequence the tests that we do by PCR ... so that we can keep up with what is actually dominant. There’s no home test to tell you what variant you have, but the good news is that it really doesn’t matter. You still take the same precautions and you still isolate in the same way as with previous variants. That’s the important thing to remember. The specific variant does not matter to the everyday person.”

Q: Are the latest subvariants more severe?

A: “Not that we know of. We don’t know at this point whether or not it’s causing more severe illness, and so that remains to be seen. Of course, we have to see that play out over the next few weeks, but it really doesn’t matter at this point to the individual person at home what variant it is.”

Q: Are the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations people who are not vaccinated?

A: “Absolutely. People that are unvaccinated here in San Diego County are at least twice as likely to end up in the hospital. The other thing to remember is that when you are vaccinated, that actually decreases your chances of having a severe outcome even if you’re hospitalized. So even if you end up in the hospital, it’s still helpful because more than likely you will do well and be discharged, as opposed to someone who is unvaccinated. That’s why you should definitely interpret that with caution, because, yes, you may end up in the hospital, but it actually still is very helpful to improve your hospital course.”

Q: Why are we still talking about COVID-19 when we don’t talk about the flu or common cold this much?

A: “Well, because COVID has killed way more people, far more people, than the flu and continues to kill people every day. Unfortunately, wishing it away and ignoring it is not a good strategy. I agree that we shouldn’t panic and we should help people and give them actionable items. I think that is very important, but the way to look at this is that avoiding bad news is not going to help, but realizing that we do have the tools to prevent ourselves from having bad outcomes from COVID is what really matters. We are in a better place now with antivirals and vaccines being available and it is important to have some awareness of this. Of course, I don’t think that you should be watching a 24-hour news cycle about COVID, it is good to take breaks, but you should try to stay informed from trusted sources.”

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