A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
The top-line news on Covid-19 this week is that about a third of the US population is in an area of high or medium community-level spread. Plus, the US Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for a vaccine booster dose for kids ages 5 to 11 who are fully vaccinated. And the Biden administration is giving out more free Covid-19 tests.
Getting Covid-19 … again
But here’s an individual story for anyone coming to terms with the persistence of Covid-19 and a lesson that if you’ve had it, you can easily test positive again.
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel did. And it’s wreaking havoc on his schedule just like infection does for school kids, teachers, service workers, office workers or anyone else who does the responsible thing and goes into isolation.
“I’m such a positive person, I tested positive AGAIN. I am feeling fine,” Kimmel said on Twitter this week, announcing guest hosts for his show.
The news comes after he previously announced a positive test and guest hosts to fill in while he quarantined at home at the beginning of the month.
There are many examples of people who got Covid-19 multiple times. Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary, leaps to mind. But Kimmel’s second positive test came a very short time after his first.
The lesson is that no, you are not exempt from Covid-19 awareness for 90 days after a positive test, since new variants are emerging and infection rates are rising in much of the country.
A New York Times report this week suggested there could be multiple mini-outbreaks of Covid-19 each year and people could be reinfected multiple times as variants like Omicron emerge and evolve into subvariants like the one infecting most Americans today.
A surge in the Northeast
About a third of the US population is in an area with high or medium infection rates, according to a warning this week from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From CNN’s report: More than 32% of people nationwide live in areas with medium or high Covid-19 community levels, (CDC Director Dr. Rochelle) Walensky said. That breaks down to 9% living in areas with high Covid-19 community levels and 23% living in medium areas.
The high-transmission areas at this moment are in the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey, and stretch over to Michigan and Wisconsin.
No new mask rules in New York
Despite the high community spread in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams said he has no plans to reinstate mask requirements there, suggesting we’ve got to learn to live with Covid-19.
“Variants are going to come,” he said, according to CNN’s report. “If every variant that comes, we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking, we’re not going to function as a city.”
He argued the city’s hospitalization rate is stable. Roughly 78% of city residents are fully vaccinated, which is above the US population’s 67% vaccination rate.
Less than half of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose, while about 38% of New Yorkers have.
Booster shots for kids
On the heels of the FDA’s authorization earlier this week, CDC vaccine advisers voted on Thursday to recommend a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Walensky has signed off on the recommendation.
While two doses of the vaccine do appear to keep kids out of the hospital, according to CNN’s report, the effectiveness of the vaccine at stopping the spread of infection fell dramatically during the Omicron surge.
More free tests
Another round of free Covid-19 tests for all Americans was made available by the Biden administration on Monday. Up to 16 have been authorized for each household through CovidTests.gov.
The administration also called on Congress to authorize $22.5 billion in more spending for testing, treatment and vaccines, but the additional funding is opposed by many Republicans.
Boosters are saving lives
While the CDC recommends a booster shot for most Americans, the percentage of those who have received third shots is relatively low.
Per the CDC, about a third of Americans 65 and older – those most at risk to dangerous cases of Covid-19 – have not received a booster shot, reports Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News. She noted a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis that found that 31% of older people who died of Covid-19 in January were fully vaccinated but had not received a booster.
Why aren’t people getting boosters?
Szabo spoke with multiple researchers and experts who argued the federal government has not focused nearly enough on getting the word out about booster shots.
“The booster program has been botched from day one,” Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told her. “This is one of the most important issues for the American pandemic, and it has been mismanaged.”
Topol and other experts argued the federal government hasn’t taken a forceful enough role in coordinating and messaging the need for booster shots.
What should you do if you test positive?
CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen talked to Katia Hetter about what to do if you test positive at this stage of the pandemic.
Wen: A more transmissible variant means that the activities we thought were relatively safe before are now higher risk. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid all activities, but rather that people who have been very careful before may be getting infected now because of how contagious this subvariant is.
5 days of isolation may feel more like 6 days
Wen: The day that you take your positive test is day zero. If you had symptoms before then, say the day before, that day is day zero – whichever is first. Day 1 is 24 hours after the positive test or appearance of symptoms.
You need to be isolated from others for five days. That means not being in the same room at home with people you live with and not going to work in person. If you have to share, say, a bathroom, make sure to wear a well-fitting N95, KN95 or KF94 while in these common areas, minimize your time in them, and open the windows as much as possible.
And after the 5th day …
Wen: The CDC says that after the fifth day of isolation, if you have no fever and your symptoms are improving, you can go into public spaces like grocery stores and to work and school, as long as you wear a well-fitting mask the entire time.
A lot of workplaces and schools have their own policies that are more stringent than this and may require, for example, a full 10 days before you return.
Do you need a negative test after 5 days?
Wen: Many public health experts, including me, would recommend testing out of isolation as an additional level of precaution that also reduces inconvenience.
This is not what the CDC says, but I think it’s reasonable to start testing with a home rapid test from day 5. If you test negative on day 5 and day 6, and you have no fever and improved symptoms, then you could exit isolation.
That would make for a less onerous isolation period, especially for families who live in small spaces or have young children to care for.