California’s COVID-19 state of emergency is now officially over and the end has not come a day too soon.
This is not to say that we don’t know how serious it was. California is the most populous state in the country, so naturally, the California death toll was higher than any other state’s: 100,187 lives lost since the outbreak in 2020.
Announcing the end of the covid emergency is not at all the same thing as the end of covid itself. While the original omicron variant is gone, it has been followed by variants XBB.1.5, BQ.1.1 and BQ.1.
XBB.1.5 is such a vicious bug, doctors are calling it “the kraken”. It’s causing 85% of current cases. So it’s not like we can let our guard down.
But an emergency simply can’t last forever. No holiday gatherings of family and friends? No rock concerts, no sports events, no proms or high school graduations? Covid was such an overwhelming and long-lasting tragedy that it’s no wonder people want to put it out of their minds.
But forgetting can’t be what the end of an emergency means for the state or the nation. Doctors and health administrators can’t afford to forget all the lessons learned from three years of pandemic. At state and federal level, stockpiles of vaccines and boosters must be maintained, along with everything needed for testing, treatment and preventative measures. The state must also fine tune its protective role vis a vis the homeless, the unemployed, the uninsured and all vulnerable sections of people.
Even for those who are not vulnerable, change is coming. Pharmaceutical companies are about to raise the price of covid vaccines. The type of health insurance a person has will determine how much he actually has to pay.
Those enrolled in Medicaid will get vaccine without charge until the end of 2024. Those on Medicare will not have to pay so long as present stocks last. After that, they will have to share the cost of covid vaccine and treatments. Private insurers will cover Paxlovid, but patients may soon face a co-payment if their deductible hasn’t been met. Those with limited benefit or short-term insurance policies or who are uninsured will have to bear the full cost.
As for covid tests, from May, people on Medicare or job-based insurance will have to start paying out of pocket for the rapid antigen test kits. Those on Medicaid can continue to get the test kits without cost into mid-2024.
Getting back to that kraken variant… Will the presently available vaccines be effective against it?
There’s good news on that front: if you are up to date with your vaccinations, the current vaccines will ward off severe infection, hospitalization and death.
But …if you have NOT received a vaccine dose in over a year or haven’t received the bivalent vaccine, you are NOT well protected. Even if you have contracted covid within the last six months, you are most likely unprotected against the XBB.1.5 variant.
It is true that of California’s 58 counties, 50 are now deemed low risk, eight are medium and none are high risk. Nevertheless, every day, 20 Californians die of covid – despite availability of vaccines and knowledge of how to manage the disease. The XBB.1.5 variant is most certainly infecting California people; cases are reported to be on an upswing.
BE PROACTIVE. DON’T DELAY
Everyone 6 months and older should get an updated bivalent COVID-19 booster. They protect against the omicron variants, plus the original COVID-19 strain.
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