Free Press readers have lots of questions about COVID-19. We’ve asked experts and tracked down sources to help sort through the information swirling about the virus, the vaccines, and more.
Please continue to ask us questions and we’ll continue to seek answers. Submit your questions to us by emailing Free Press health reporter Kristen Jordan Shamus at [email protected] and we’ll answer as many as we can.
Here’s this week’s Q&A:
QUESTION: My wife and I are planning a trip to Florida to visit our daughter who has received both doses of the vaccine. Our grandchildren are 6 and 4. Are there any precautions we should take?
ANSWER: If you and your wife are both fully vaccinated — that means it has been at least two weeks after both of you got your final dose — and your daughter is too, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s OK to get together indoors without masks or social distancing.
It’s also OK to see people from one other unvaccinated household (if you consider that household your daughter’s house because your unvaccinated grandchildren live there, too) as long as they or others in the house are not at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness.
The tricky part is going to be getting to Florida. The CDC still hasn’t loosened the travel recommendations for vaccinated people, and urges all Americans to stay home to protect themselves and others from the virus.
Of course, after a year of the pandemic, lots of people are weary of staying home and are eager to visit their loved ones. If you must travel, the CDC recommends:
- Get a COVID-19 test one to three days before your trip.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when in public.
- Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet from anyone who did not travel with you.
- Get tested 3-5 days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
Q: What is the recommendation for how long you should wait after contracting COVID-19 to be vaccinated? Both my wife and I were just notified that slots had become available for our vaccinations but we are just getting over COVID.
A: The CDC says you should wait to get vaccinated until you are fully recovered from the virus and no longer have symptoms. If you were an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, you should wait at least 14 days after your positive test to get vaccinated.
If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the CDC recommends waiting at least 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
But if you weren’t treated with those therapies or were given other treatments and have questions specific to your cases, the CDC advises talking to your doctor to decide what timing is best for you once you’ve fully recovered from the virus.
“While there is no recommended minimum interval between infection and vaccination, current evidence suggests that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection is low in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to waning immunity,” the CDC says in its recommendation.
Q: My wife suffered from the vaccine the day after getting it — a little the first time and a lot the second. From what I read, that is pretty normal. I felt fine until the fourth day both times and then was under the weather. Does that happen, or were they just coincidences? I Googled extensively and no one says much about delayed reactions.
A: Feeling some side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine is normal. It’s your body building an immune response. Some people report redness, pain and swelling on the arm where they got the shot. They also have reported fever, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, and chills.
Side effects are more commonly reported after the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and most are mild and short-term.
In clinical trials, side effects were reported at any point within seven days of getting vaccinated. While some people reported having a reaction within a day or two of getting an injection, others, like you, reported the onset of symptoms up until day seven with the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, according to the CDC.
Research is ongoing into reactions to the vaccines — delayed or immediate. The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month reported that there have been rare delayed injection-site reactions following the Moderna shots.
In that study, delayed reactions on or after the eighth day post-injection occurred in 244 of the 30,420 people who were studied (0.8%) after the first dose. And even less frequently — just 0.2% of the time — following the second dose.
The delayed injection-site reactions typically resolved within four of five days after they appeared, according to the study.
Q: As a 30-year teacher who has experienced the terrible COVID virus and have seen the consequences, how can anyone want the schools open? I hate home schooling and I am not crazy about Zoom. However, DEATH is so permanent!
A: While school-age children can and do contract coronavirus, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests they are not big spreaders of infection.
A study published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the evidence and made the case for the return to in-person learning as long as schools commit to mask wearing, social distancing, and enforcing hand hygiene. It concluded: “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
It cited a study of 397 children in Mississippi that showed attending gatherings and social functions outside the home and having had visitors in the home was associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 infection. In-person school attendance was not.
Another study of 90,000 students and staff from 11 school districts that followed mitigation policies such as mask wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene in North Carolina showed that the virus was rarely transmitted within schools, and there were no cases reported of student-to-staff transmission.
In 17 schools in rural Wisconsin that reported consistent use of masks, COVID-19 incidence was lower in the schools than in the community.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the School Superintendents Association agree on the advantages of in-person learning, and issued the following joint statement:
“We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom. But children get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other services that cannot be easily replicated online. Schools also play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity. Our nation’s response to COVID-19 has laid bare inequities and consequences for children that must be addressed. This pandemic is especially hard on families who rely on school lunches, have children with disabilities, or lack access to Internet or health care.
“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”
That’s why schools shut down in March, when case rates were high and little was known about the virus and its spread, but were able to reopen in the state in September, when community spread was low and more was understood about transmission.
As case rates ramped up again in November, public health officials moved high schools and colleges to remote learning. That’s because researchers had learned that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is higher among teens and young adults than it is younger children. Once the level of community spread began to drop again, schools were allowed to reopen.
The state health department prioritized vaccinating K-12 teachers and school staff to ensure that the risk to educators is minimized as schools reopen.
Q: I am 80 years old and have done nothing to avoid taking on the virus. I meet with family members all the time, we go to parties, festivities, events, gatherings, get-togethers, meetings, all without masks. I have avoided wearing a mask in as many times and events as possible. My doctor tested me. He says I have not had COVID-19 yet. Recently, my daughter acquired COVID-19. She is a healthy 40-something runner and has been sick and miserable for close to a week but has not been hospitalized. Once you get the disease, what should others do? In the household of my daughter, she has it, her husband and son do not. What is the range of severity among those who have caught the disease and what are the underlying factors that contribute to the severity?
A: Consider yourself extremely lucky that you haven’t contracted the virus even though you’re going out in the community without masks and attending large gatherings with people who don’t live with you. That’s a risky endeavor at 80 years old — or at any age — in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans.
The COVID-19 death rate is high among people your age. Eighty percent of COVID-19 deaths have been in people ages 65 and older. The CDC has a chart on its website that outlines risk of death by age from coronavirus infection. Compared with the baseline group, which is people ages 5-17, your risk at age 80 of dying from COVID-19 is 2,800 times higher. And you are 55 times more likely to be hospitalized.
Having an underlying health condition also can increase your risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. Though I couldn’t find data detailing which conditions are associated with the highest risk, the CDC does have some details about the health conditions that are more likely to lead to more serious illness or death in people who contract the virus. They include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from organ, blood or bone marrow transplant, autoimmune conditions, HIV, or other conditions or medications that can weaken the immune system
- Being overweight or obese
- Sickle cell disease
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
When you go out in public as you have without a mask or social distancing and gathering without taking precautions, you also are putting other people at risk. You could be a pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carrier and infect others.
As for your daughter, she should try to isolate from the others in her home as much as possible, sleep in a different room, use a different bathroom. The people who live with her should stay at least 6 feet away from her and wear masks when they do come near her, and also wash their hands often. If there is a window in the room, crack it a little to allow for better ventilation. The CDC has a range of suggestions and tips on its website for things like handling laundry for a person with COVID, etc. You can read it all here: https://bit.ly/3cu2n9s.
Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.