Answers to Your Questions about Coronavirus and Vaccines
Does Medicare cover the cost of over-the-counter test kits?
As of April 4, 2022, Medicare covers up to 8 over-the-counter COVID-19 tests each calendar month, at no cost to you. This coverage continues until the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) will cover these tests if you have Part B. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you won’t get this benefit through your plan, but will get it like you would if you weren’t enrolled in the plan. You might need to show your red, white, and blue Medicare card to get your free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests (even if you have another card for a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Part D plan).
Each person with Medicare Part B can get up to 8 free over-the-counter tests for the month of April any time before April 30, and can then get another set of 8 free over-the-counter tests for each calendar month that follows until the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Learn more
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Should I get a fourth shot now, or wait for an Omicron-specific booster?
On Aug. 15, Britain became the first country to authorize a booster vaccine designed to target the Omicron variant in addition to the original coronavirus. The new vaccine is bivalent, meaning it will combat two variants of the virus.
A similar booster is likely coming to the U.S. in the fall. (The shot that Britain approved is meant to protect against the first strain of Omicron, which sent cases surging this past winter, while the U.S. is waiting on a vaccine that can specifically target BA.5, the version of the virus that is currently dominant.) The Biden administration expects to roll out these retooled vaccines in September, although it is unclear exactly when Pfizer and Moderna, the companies producing the vaccines, will make them available; when the Food and Drug Administration will authorize them; and which populations will be cleared to receive them first. The new boosters may roll out first to groups that are at higher risk of severe outcomes from Covid, such as older and immunocompromised people, before being made available to others.
With that new booster shot on the horizon, doctors and infectious disease experts said they were fielding questions as to whether people should get a fourth shot now or wait for the Omicron-specific booster.
If you are eligible for a fourth shot:
The C.D.C. recommends that people receive booster shots as soon as they become eligible. Currently, all adults who are 50 or older, and people who are 12 and older and are immunocompromised can receive a fourth shot.
Experts agreed that those who qualified for the booster shot now should get it. The older you are, the more important it is to get a fourth shot, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
In general, if you have not received a vaccine or recovered from a Covid infection in the past six months, “getting a booster is a good idea,” said Shane Crotty, a virologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.
Read more on the newest booster vaccine
Has anyone gotten Covid after being fully vaccinated?
Severe breakthrough cases are uncommon: More than 166 million people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 7,525 breakthrough cases as of Aug 11, 2021 that led to hospitalization or death.
How serious are breakthrough Covid cases?
While it’s still possible for those who receive the vaccine to contract COVID-19, it’s important to remember that those numbers are low. More importantly, the number of breakthrough cases that result in serious illnesses, hospitalizations or death are extremely low.
What if I lost my vaccination card?
- If you have lost your vaccination card or don’t have a copy, contact your vaccination provider site where you received your vaccine to access your vaccination record.
- If you cannot contact your vaccination provider directly, contact your state health department’s immunization information system (IIS). You can find state IIS information on the CDC website. Vaccination providers are required to report COVID-19 vaccinations to their IIS and related systems.
If you have made every effort to locate your vaccination information, are unable to get a copy or replacement of your vaccination card, and need a second or a booster shot, talk to a vaccination provider.
Healthcare and Seniors
How transmissible is the Omicron variant?
Covid-19 has evolved to become more contagious over time. The alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom ahead of last year’s holiday season, was more easily passed from person to person than the original iteration of the virus. The delta variant, which took over this past spring, was more transmissible than alpha.
Now the question is: Is omicron more transmissible than delta? If so, it will probably reach people without any immunity against Covid-19 — which is still tens of millions of people in the United States and billions across the world — quicker than delta did, and might eventually become the dominant strain of the virus, just as delta displaced previous versions of the coronavirus. As of right now, about 70 percent of all Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine; worldwide, the share is about 56 percent.
Those odds would also improve if omicron proves better at evading existing immunity (whether from vaccination or prior infection) than delta has been — more on that in a moment. That could cause more reinfections or breakthrough infections.
A version of the virus that is better at evading a person’s immune system could also, in theory, last longer in the body, allowing transmission for a longer period. (The delta variant tends to burn out quickly, in a few days.)
South Africa, one of the world’s leading countries in genetic sequencing and therefore a leading source of data on omicron, has seen a spike in daily Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks — from an average of 246 new cases as of November 14 to 1,851 as of November 28. That has been the basis for much of the concern about omicron being more transmissible.
How does the virus spread?
COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected.
COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:
- Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
- Having these small droplets and particles that contain virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
- Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.
Can I stop wearing a mask after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
No. For a couple reasons, masks and social distancing will still be recommended for some time after people are vaccinated.
To start, the first coronavirus vaccines require two shots; Pfizer’s second dose comes three weeks after the first and Moderna’s comes after four weeks. And the effect of vaccinations generally aren’t immediate.
People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot. But full protection may not happen until a couple weeks after the second shot.
It’s also not yet known whether the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect people from infection entirely, or just from symptoms. That means vaccinated people might still be able to get infected and pass the virus on, although it would likely be at a much lower rate, according to one vaccine expert.
How can I tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
Influenza and COVID-19 are very similar in terms of symptoms. The only way to be certain is to get tested to know what’s you’ve got.
Body aches, sore throat, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches are symptoms shared by the two. However, the flu typically causes people to feel sickest during the first week of illness. With COVID-19, people may feel the worst during the second or third week, and they may be sicker for a longer period.
Another difference: COVID-19 is more likely than the flu to cause a loss of taste or smell. But not everyone experiences that symptom, so it’s not a reliable way to tell the viruses apart.
Is it safe to go back to the dentist?
As of June 19, every state had allowed dentists’ offices to reopen for all procedures, according to the American Dental Association, which surveyed thousands of dentists earlier in June and found that patient volume is at nearly 60 percent of what it was before March 15, when dentists were told to shut down except for emergencies.
When calling to schedule an appointment, ask your dental office if they being clear about people not coming in if they have symptoms; Are they being strict about patients wearing masks? Are they making sure that the person who works on you is wearing a face shield and a mask; and what other measures are being taken to protect patients and staff from the spread of the virus?”
Many dentists are advising patients to wait outside or in their car until the dentist is ready to see them. They may take a patient’s temperature before allowing them to enter the office, they have removed magazines and toys from the waiting area, and have placed hand sanitizer throughout the office. They are also allowing more time between patients to sanitize rooms and surfaces.
What are the potential long-term effects of having COVID-19?
Because the coronavirus is still so new, scientists don’t know much about long-term effects. The best evidence comes from patients themselves, and some experience a variety of symptoms long after their infections have cleared.
Most people recover within a few weeks. For people who experience longer-term effects, the most common issues are bouts of exhaustion, headaches, anxiety and muscle aches that can last for at least several more weeks.
Patients who required intensive care, including those put on ventilators or kidney dialysis, can experience more serious issues.
Lung scarring can occur in people who developed pneumonia. Heart inflammation, irregular heartbeats, and worsening kidney and liver function have been reported as well. However, it’s too soon to know if those could be permanent problems.
Survivors who had long intensive-care stays sometimes need oxygen therapy or dialysis at home. Some also develop a condition called post-intensive care syndrome, which can include persistent muscle weakness and memory problems. That can happen after any critical illness and may be related to sedation and prolonged bed confinement during hospitalization.
Blood clots can also develop during and after COVID-19 infections, occasionally causing strokes. Even in less serious cases, blood thinners are prescribed and can require lifestyle changes to reduce risks of bleeding.
Most symptoms appear to eventually go away, said Dr. Thomas McGinn of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York, who was involved in one of the largest U.S. studies of COVID-19 patients.
“It’s just a matter of when. For some patients it may take longer than others,” McGinn said.
Can I get COVID-19 through my eyes or ears?
It’s possible through the eyes, but not likely through the ears.
As with the nose and mouth, doctors say the eyes may be a route of infection if someone with the virus coughs or sneezes nearby. Infection is also possible when rubbing your eyes with hands that have been exposed to the virus.
Tears from an infected person could also spread the virus.
Frequent hand washing, social distancing and the use of facial coverings in public are ways to keep the virus from spreading, including through the eyes.
Glasses may also offer added protection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Health care workers are advised to use safety goggles when treating potentially infected patients.
Ears, on the other hand, are not believed to be a route of COVID-19 infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What can a COVID-19 antibody test tell me?
An antibody test might show if you had COVID-19 in the recent past, which most experts think gives people some protection from the virus. The tests are different from the nasal swab tests that determine if you’re currently sick.
But studies are still underway to determine what antibody level would be needed for immunity. It’s also not yet known how long any immunity might last. For now, the tests are most helpful for researchers trying to track how the virus spreads in communities.
Dozens of companies are making rapid antibody tests to help identify people who had the virus and may have developed some immunity to it.
How should I clean and store my face mask?
Cloth face masks worn during the coronavirus pandemic should be washed regularly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health experts recommend wearing a mask made from cotton fabric, such as T-shirts, or scarves and bandannas, when you are outside and unable to maintain social distancing from others.
The covering should be washed daily after use. It is best to clean your mask in a washing machine or with soap and hot water. The mask should be dried completely. Dry it in a hot dryer, if possible.
Food Insecurity and Seniors
How can homebound seniors get food assistance?
The CARES Act provided an additional $480 million in flexible congregate and home-delivered nutrition services for seniors; $20 million for Native American aging program nutrition services; and the bill relaxes dietary guidelines to ensure that local meal providers are able to accommodate the increasing demand while facing limitations in the food supply chain during the pandemic.
Additionally, the new expands the definition of “homebound” to clarify that older adults who are self-isolating are eligible to receive services.
Seniors or their caregivers should contact their local depts of Aging for help.
Do I need to wear a mask if I’m 6 feet away from others?
AUG 26th: To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spread of the virus beyond 6 feet is uncommon but more likely in poorly ventilated spaces. Some health experts say the virus can spread more easily than the CDC indicates, and suggest wearing masks even in prolonged outdoor gatherings when people are more than 6 feet apart.
When people raise their voices or pant — such as when they sing, shout or exercise — they can expel more respiratory droplets or aerosols and send them traveling farther through the air. The longer you’re in a situation with potential for exposure to the virus, the greater your risk of infection.
Experts suggest wearing a mask whenever you leave your house, to eliminate any uncertainty.
Can mosquitoes spread the coronavirus?
No. Mosquitoes can spread some diseases, but not Coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has no data to suggest the coronavirus is spread by either mosquitoes or ticks. COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through droplets people spray when they talk, cough or sneeze. The virus would have to infect the mosquito and multiply inside of it in order for the mosquito to pass it on to people. That failed to happen when researchers injected three species of mosquitoes with the virus.
Is it safe to stay in hotels as re-openings get underway?
Take precautions. Call ahead to the hotel to see how they are working to minimize the risk of COVID-19. For example, are the staff wearing face coverings? How have the hotel’s cleaning practices been increased?
Check on-lone before making reservations since many hotels post their prevention steps on their websites. These include hand sanitizer stations in lobbies, disinfecting surfaces like elevator buttons more frequently and removing extra items in rooms, such as pens and paper. Breakfast buffets may also be replaced with meals. Social distancing, avoiding crowded elevators, taking stairs when possible, avoid common areas and dining out are some measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Is it safe to open mail and packages during the pandemic?
There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spreading through mail or parcels, according to the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of it is spread from droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, which are inhaled by people nearby. Health experts say the risks are very low that COVID-19 will remain on envelopes or packages and infect anyone who handles them. It’s still a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly — and avoid touching your face — after handling deliveries.