PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, one health official is sharing science-based guidance for individuals and organizations amid record-breaking infections with the omicron variant.
KOIN 6 News spoke with Dr. Ethan Berke, chief public health officer with UnitedHealth Group. Berke spoke to the press about the current state of the pandemic, COVID-19 testing strategies, proper masking, vaccines and treatments.
Despite cases and hospitalizations increasing in the United States, he said South Africa and the U.K. are seeing cases drop.
“There’s a lot of news that can be stressful and overwhelming for people, and I always like to encourage people to take a breath, take a step back and emphasize the science-based steps that we can all do to protect ourselves and protect the spread of COVID-19 from one another,” said Berke. “Good hygiene, social distancing, masking, testing, and very importantly getting vaccinated – the primary series – as well as booster shots, as needed. As the pandemic enters the third year, no one really knows what will happen next.”
With testing, Berke said antigen or rapid tests do a “great job” of finding out if you have an infection – particularly if you have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, he suggests repeating the antigen test after a day or so.
“It’s important to understand the strengths and limitations of anything we do in medicine. There’s no perfect test out there, whether it’s for COVID or for cholesterol,” Berke noted. “It’s important as you’re using these technologies in your home, we understand what it means when it’s positive and what it means when it’s negative, and how you have to reaction to that information if it happens to be incorrect.”
As for masks, Berke recommends for people to use higher filtration masks if available, such as N95 or KN95 masks.
What if you don’t have access to those masks?
He suggests wearing a well-fitting surgical mask because it “seems to be superior to a cloth mask from what the science is showing.”
Berke also addressed the impacts of long-term COVID for those with lingering symptoms after weeks, months or years. He called it a long-term issue that the medical community will continue paying attention to.