Genetic variations of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) have been growing and changing around the world throughout the pandemic. Scientists track these viral variants through public health data, laboratory studies and other methods.
Being fully vaccinated is your best form of protection against COVID-19 variants. Though vaccination may not completely prevent variant infection, it will help prevent serious illness due to variant infection.
In late November 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new coronavirus variant called Omicron (B.1.1.529). The first confirmed US case of Omicron was detected in California. The CDC is researching this new variant and working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more and monitor its path.
Scientists have also classified the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) as a Variant of Concern because their research indicates that, compared to other variants, it:
- Is highly contagious (even among people who are vaccinated and/or have already recovered from COVID-19.)
- Causes more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths)
- Is harder to treat
After you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing many things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. When it comes to wearing a mask however, it is important to consider how new COVID-19 variants are spreading in your community. The CDC recently changed its guidance on mask usage and now advises vaccinated people to resume mask wearing in public indoor settings in areas where new viral variants are spreading rapidly.
New coronavirus variants appear to be more contagious than previous versions of the virus. So, even if you are fully vaccinated, consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial or high rates of transmission.
Regardless of the transmission rate in your area, you should wear a mask in public indoor settings if you:
- Are unvaccinated
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are at increased risk for severe disease because of your age or an underlying medical condition
- Live with someone who has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated
People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms that may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.The most common symptoms* are:
- Fever or chills
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
There is usually no need to go to the emergency room for care unless you develop more serious COVID-19 symptoms* such as:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to wake up
- Bluish lips or face
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your primary care provider for any symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Visit the federal CDC web page for the latest information on COVID-19 signs and symptoms.
Stay home except to get medical care.
- Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Do not leave, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas.
- Do not go to your local hospital emergency room unless you are having serious symptoms such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Constant pain or pressure in your chest
- Bluish lips or face
- Sudden confusion
- Having a hard time staying awake
- Stay in touch with your doctor. Monitor your symptoms. Be sure to get care if you feel worse or you think it is an emergency. If you have a medical appointment, call ahead and tell them you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the office protect themselves and other patients.
- Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
Separate yourself from other people and pets in your home.
- Stay away from others: As much as possible, you should stay in a specific “sick room” and away from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom, if available.
- Limit contact with pets & animals: You should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.
- If possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick with COVID-19. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them. See COVID-19 and Animals for more information.
Wear a face mask.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
- Surgical face masks are currently required at all MaineHealth care locations. A care team member will give you a mask when you arrive.
- You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.
- Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
- Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. The cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.
Clean your hands often.
- Wash hands: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- Hand sanitizer: If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
- Soap and water: Soap and water are the best option, especially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Avoid touching: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid sharing personal household items.
- Do not share: Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home.
- Wash thoroughly after use: After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water or put in the dishwasher.
Clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday.
Clean high-touch surfaces in your isolation area (“sick room” and bathroom) every day; let a caregiver clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in other areas of the home.
- Clean and disinfect: Routinely clean high-touch surfaces in your “sick room” and bathroom. Let someone else clean and disinfect surfaces in common areas, but not your bedroom and bathroom.
- If a caregiver or other person needs to clean and disinfect a sick person’s bedroom or bathroom, they should do so on an as-needed basis. The caregiver/other person should wear a mask and wait as long as possible after the sick person has used the bathroom.
High-touch surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
- Clean and disinfect areas that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
- Household cleaners and disinfectants: Clean the area or item with soap and water or another detergent if it is dirty. Then, use a household disinfectant.
- Be sure to follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. Many products recommend keeping the surface wet for several minutes to ensure germs are killed. Many also recommend precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.
- Most EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. CDC disinfection guide
Monitor your symptoms.
- Seek medical attention, but call first: Seek medical care right away if your illness is worsening (for example, if you have difficulty breathing).
- Follow care instructions from your health care provider and local health department: Your local health authorities will give instructions on wearing a mask, checking your symptoms and reporting information.
- Call 911 if you have a medical emergency. Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before medical help arrives.
Visit the federal CDC web page for the latest information on what to do if you feel sick.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus) is a disease that causes flu-like symptoms which can lead to serious illness, hospitalization and death.
A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.
Most COVID-19 cases are mild to moderate but anyone can have severe symptoms, including children and young adults. Older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications such as severe respiratory illness or death.
How does it spread?
Anyone infected with COVID-19 can spread it, even if they do NOT have symptoms, even if they are fully vaccinated.
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.
If you develop new symptoms such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chills, sore throat or muscle aches, please stay home and call your health care provider. Your doctor will help decide whether you should be tested. Learn more about COVID-19 testing at MaineHealth.
Do fully vaccinated people need to get tested after exposure?
Fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
Treatments used for COVID-19 should be prescribed by your health care provider. People have been seriously harmed and even died after taking products not approved for COVID-19, even products approved or prescribed for other uses.
Drugs Approved or Authorized for Use
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one drug, remdesivir (Veklury), to treat COVID-19.
- The FDA can also issue emergency use authorizations (EUAs) to allow healthcare providers to use products that are not fully approved, or that are approved for other uses, to treat patients with COVID-19 if certain legal requirements are met.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed and regularly updates treatment guidelines to help guide healthcare providers caring for patients with COVID-19, including when clinicians might consider using one of the products under an EUA.
Treatment Outside of the Hospital
Your health care provider might recommend the following to relieve symptoms and support your body’s natural defenses:
- Taking medications, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce fever
- Drinking water or receiving intravenous fluids to stay hydrated
- Getting plenty of rest to help the body fight the virus
If you are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, your health care provider might recommend that you receive investigational treatment.
For people at high risk of disease progression. The FDA has issued EUAs for a number of investigational monoclonal antibodies that can attach to parts of the virus. These antibodies could help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus.
For example, if you are at high risk for serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19, your doctor may prescribe a medicine called REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab). The Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) Fact Sheet for Patients for REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab) can be accessed on the manufacturer’s website or by clicking here.
- Note: This medicine is used for prevention and treatment.
Treatment in the Hospital
- Slowing the virus. Antiviral medications reduce the ability of the virus to multiply and spread through the body.
- Reducing an overactive immune response. In patients with severe COVID-19, the body’s immune system may overreact to the threat of the virus, worsening the disease. This can cause damage to the body’s organs and tissues. Some treatments can help reduce this overactive immune response.
- Treating complications. COVID-19 can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal organs. It also can cause other complications. Depending on the complications, additional treatments might be used for severely ill hospitalized patients, such as blood thinners to prevent or treat blood clots.
- Supporting the body’s immune function. Plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19—called convalescent plasma—can contain antibodies to the virus. This could help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus, but currently the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines find there is not enough evidence to recommend these treatments.
CDC has updated isolation and quarantine recommendations for the public. These recommendations do not apply to healthcare personnel and do not supersede state, local, tribal, of territorial laws, rules, and regulations.
People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.
Recommendations for people who are exposed to COVID-19 are also updated. If you are unvaccinated or more than 6 months out from your second Pfizer or Moderna dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and you are not yet boosted, CDC recommends a quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. If a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure.
People who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for COVID-19 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.