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How to avoid COVID-19 this summer

14 December, 2022

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Stella Huggins

Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker says we should be taking steps to protect ourselves and the people around us from COVID-10 this summer. Photo: Canva.

Listen to the full interview

Experts are warning of a potential spike in COVID-19 cases as we rapidly approach the holiday season.

An Epidemiologist from the University of Otago, Dr Michael Baker, told 95bFM's The Wire that the risk is higher at the moment as we are in our third wave of Omicron infection.

Dr Baker said it is “bad timing” as we come up to a period of the year where people tend to be more social, and interact with more unfamiliar groups and locations.

He stressed that anyone, of any age, can be infected by COVID-19, and that while the vaccine reduces the severity of an infection, it can’t protect against infection entirely.

The long-term effects of an infection on someone at all ages can also be devastating, as “some people are still quite disabled after three months.”

Dr Baker said things we can do to protect ourselves and the people around us include being mindful of venue choice when planning events. He also recommended well-ventilated areas, preferably outside. 

Portable CO2 monitors can indicate how well-ventilated an area actually is. Dr Baker said monitors do not indicate if the virus is present in the air, but aid in an indirect way, by indicating how likely it is that you’re “re-breathing air from other people”, who could potentially be infected.

Those who have been infected recently may be feeling more relaxed. However, Baker said that while you can be protected for a few weeks after infection, “definitely after four weeks you can be reinfected, and that risk rises over time.”

He advised those who have been infected and are gearing up to head back out into the community, to do a Rapid antigen test from day seven of isolation.

“Seven days is still relatively arbitrary, ten days is much more certain that you’re not going to be infected.” 

On the topic of treating infections in the first instance, Baker endorsed antiviral medications, particularly Paxlovid.

“The challenge is you have got to start it from five days. That is another reason that if you are getting sick, test yourself.”

He did, however, recognise that the eligibility criteria to gain access to these drugs is “quite tight”.

For those who are eligible for their third, or even fourth booster shot, Baker said now is the time to get that booster.

Whatever your opinion is on whether the virus is still at pandemic level, the epidemiologist’s message is clear; you want to minimise your chance of infection this summer. 

“Accept that whether you say we are still in the pandemic, which we are technically, or whether you say we are learning to live with it, it doesn’t really make any difference for what you need to do. Realise that you are vulnerable, and act accordingly.”

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air