Launch in new window

Tali - Language feat. Satl

You are here

How to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19 this summer

14 December, 2022

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Stella Huggins

Listen to the full interview

Experts are warning of a potential spike in COVID-19 cases as we rapidly approach the holiday season in Aotearoa. Epidemiologist from the University of Otago, Michael Baker told The Wire "the risk is higher at the moment [and] we are in our third wave of Omicron infection."

He called it “bad timing” as we come up to a period of the year where people tend to be more social, as well as interact with more unfamiliar groups and locations. Baker stresses that we need to be cognisant of “how we frame this infection”, and confront some psychological barriers we might have around protecting ourselves and our loved ones this summer.

Baker cites the fact that anyone, of any age, can be infected by COVID-19, and that the vaccine markedly reduces the severity of an infection, but can’t protect against infection entirely. Additionally, the long-term effects of an infection on someone at all ages can be devastating, as “some people are still quite disabled after three months.”

Some strategies to ensure people take agency, the “things we can do to protect ourselves and the people around us” include being mindful of venue choice when planning events. Baker recommends well-ventilated areas, preferably outside, and also points out that portable CO2 monitors can indicate how well-ventilated an area actually is. 

These 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 in recent times may be feeling more relaxed about taking such agency on account of the ‘immunity period’. However, Baker says 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.”

His advice for those who have been infected and are gearing up to head back out into the community, to do a RAT test on day seven of isolation, as “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 endorses antiviral medications, particularly Paxlovid. “The challenge is you've got to start it from five days. That’s another reason that if you are getting sick, test yourself.” He does, 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 says “if you are in that group, now is the time to get that booster and do it before Christmas, because you know that your body has a much more vigorous antibody protection for the next few months.”

Whatever your opinion is on whether the virus is still at pandemic level, the epidemiologist’s message is clear. “Accept that whether you say we’re still in the pandemic, which we are technically, or whether you say we’re learning to live with it- it doesn’t really make any difference for what you need to do. You want to minimise your chance of infection… realise that you are vulnerable, and act accordingly”

Public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air