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COVID: What we know now.

It’s almost hard to believe that a full two years have passed since news of a mysterious but potentially very serious respiratory illness surfaced at the end of December 2019.

In that time, COVID has changed our lives. We have lost loved ones, been distanced from those closest to us, and grappled with the physical and mental impacts of living in a pandemic.

Today we reflect on what we know now and the practical steps we can continue taking to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.

COVID is not going away:

As much as we may all wish that COVID would just disappear, it is clear that this is something we will be living with for a long time. So what now, you may ask?

Endemicity seems to be the new buzzword of the day. Although we are not there yet, what this will mean is that the disease will continue to circulate in areas of the population for years to come. This demonstrates a shift from the idea that we will be able to get rid of COVID completely to the concept of us living alongside COVID, as we do with many other diseases.

What a disease being endemic doesn’t mean, is that it will be milder for all, especially as the virus evolves and changes.1

However, compared to the start of the pandemic, when we experienced the perfect storm of a new virus unknown to our immune systems and no available vaccines or medications to treat it with, this new phase should see us equipped with the tools to help manage the consequences of a COVID infection better.

COVID is changing…

Living with COVID is an ever-evolving thing.

That’s because viruses change (or ‘mutate’) all the time. This can sound scary but it is, in fact, a normal part of the virus’ life cycle, and some of these changes can go by relatively unnoticed.

The problem with a virus mutating is when the changes made an impact on key factors. These include how easily it can be passed between people, how unwell you become from it, or if a current vaccine or treatment protects against it. If it’s shown that this is happening with a new variant, then it can be termed a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC).2

This is exactly what happened with the Omicron variant at the end of 2021. It ticked these boxes by seeming to be more transmissible than its predecessors and the vaccine programme seemed to offer a lower level of protection against this variant as it then stood.3

For many, the emergence of Omicron sparked a strong sense of deja-vu with another

variant of COVID causing widespread disruption. However, as seen from the worldwide response to this variant, COVID is changing…

…but so is what we can do:

Looking back to where we began, it is amazing to see what we know about COVID now. Communities of scientists have come together across the world to learn more about COVID and develop robust testing, treatments, and vaccinations for this with more to come.

So what can we do now?

1. Get tested:

    If you have symptoms that you think could be COVID, get tested...

    As new variants emerge and COVID changes, it can be helpful to remember that not all COVID infections present with the classical symptoms of fever, cough, and loss or change of taste and smell we saw earlier in the pandemic.

    With the later variants, cold-like symptoms like runny nose and sneezing could be signs of COVID as well as headaches, muscles aches, fatigue, and sore throat among others so if in doubt, get a test.

    2. Get boosted

      Programmes for vaccinations and boosters are happening all over the world.

      Research into the vaccines is ongoing globally but already it has been shown that having the vaccine can protect you by lowering your risks of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19, spreading it to those around you, or even catching it in the first place.4

      3. Don’t forget old tricks:

        Now although hand washing, keeping rooms well ventilated, and wearing facemasks when advised can feel pretty old hat now as we come to the end of our second year living with this pandemic, they are no less important.

        Ultimately, the way this virus spreads is still airborne so remembering to do the simple things well in accordance with the guidelines in place at the time can really help.

        4. Don’t panic!

          The worldwide community of scientists and clinicians researching COVID each day has your back. With each week that goes by, we are learning more about this virus and ways to help us live with it. Just look at how far we’ve come already.

          Be kind to yourself. Living through a pandemic has been hard and the ongoing uncertainty can be enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. Anything you can do to help protect your mental health will help you roll with the punches as our COVID journey rumbles on.

          A helpful tip can be to work out what adds to your worry and target it. Is reading the news 20 times a day making you more anxious? Maybe try capping the number of times you check the news to once a day and see how much better you feel.

          5. Get Help

            We at Babylon are here to help. If you’re feeling unwell with COVID or struggling with your mental health, you can book in with any of our clinicians to discuss how you are feeling.

            No question is too silly and no problem is too big or small. We can work together to break it down and work out what your next steps will be.

            We are here for you.

            Try Babylon today

            Babylon offers high-quality, 24/7 comprehensive health care. Let us help:

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            References

            1. Endemic, New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/definition/endemic/,
            2. SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant-classifications.html#anchor_1632154493691, updated 1 December 2021
            3. Urgent Omicron appeal: Get boosted now, GOV,UK
              https://www.gov.uk/government/news/urgent-omicron-appeal-get-boosted-now, released 12/12/21
            4. Urgent Omicron appeal: Get boosted now, GOV,UK
              https://www.gov.uk/government/news/urgent-omicron-appeal-get-boosted-now, released 12/12/21

            The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.