The latest spike in Covid-19 cases has many Americans anxious about how to stay safe this winter. One free way to mitigate your risk of catching the highly contagious omicron variant is to get the vaccine, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
"Stock up on antibodies," he says. "Go out there and make sure you got your vaccine. You got to think of getting the vaccine like a bike helmet. Bike helmets do not protect you from gravity but they do protect you from getting seriously injured should something happen."
There are also items you can buy that might boost your immunity or lessen your chance of catching and spreading the coronavirus. Here's what health experts advise you should stock up on going into the winter season.
Two years into the pandemic, you might have let your mask supply dwindle. But with the new omicron variant spreading rapidly, many cities are reinstating indoor masking mandates, which means it might be time to replenish.
"Stock up on good-fitting face masks that have multiple layers. That allows you to be out in public and minimize your risk," Galiatsatos says.
Masks with multiple layers, KN95 masks, and hospital-grade masks are the most effective, he says. This 10-pack of five layered masks from Amazon is $7 and this 20-pack of KN95 masks from Amazon costs $15.
However, he says, "any mask is better than none," so if all you can find is cloth masks, it's still worth it to pick them up.
A two-pack of masks at Target is $4, as is a 2-pack of kids' masks. At Banana Republic, a two-pack is on sale for $10. On Amazon, a 30-pack of masks is $27, but note that it won't arrive until the first week of January.
Although vaccinated people are more protected against hospitalization and death than unvaccinated, they could still get a breakthrough case of Covid-19. That's why it's important to test, even if you have the mildest of symptoms.
"Know where you can get an at-home test in a small time frame," Galiatsatos says.
You can find at-home tests on various chain store websites and at many brick-and-mortar retailers such as Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. They usually retail for between $14 and $24 for a box containing two tests.
Many local health departments are distributing tests directly to consumers for free. In Minnesota, you can order an at-home test kit, free of charge, and the health department will ship it to you within one day of receiving your request.
Other health departments are stocking them at sites like libraries, day cares, and schools for free. Check you local health department website to see what options are available to you.
Starting in January, you'll be able to order a free test from the federal government using a website they will launch soon.
When you want to boost your immune system, eat food rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, says Dr. Monisha Bhanote, a health and wellness expert.
"Generally, you will find an abundance of these nutrients in plant-based foods including dark leafy green vegetables," she says. Kale, spinach, and bok choy all qualify as dark leafy greens.
Shopping seasonal vegetables, she notes, will be more cost efficient than looking for out-of-season produce. "In the winter months, we can nourish ourselves with root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and radishes, as well as the root vegetables more familiar to us, and spices like turmeric, garlic, and ginger," she says.
Eating foods that are high in vitamin C can help your body fight disease, says Annie Maas a registered nurse. This includes oranges, grapefruit, and pineapples. Eating them whole, as opposed to in a vitamin or juice form, is even more beneficial.
"Consuming whole foods over processed [foods] aids in reducing inflammation in the body, which has been a hallmark side effect of Covid," she says.
This time of year you're at greater risk of getting not only Covid, but the common flu or cold.
"I'd recommend keeping general cold and flu medicine, cough medicine, like dextromethorphan, and guaifenesin, and acetaminophen on hand," she says. "There's nothing worse than going to the pharmacy when you aren't feeling well, so having them readily available is key."
An "accurate" thermometer is crucial to monitoring your health, Maas says.
"Digital oral thermometers are the most accurate for at home use," she says. "They give a clear reading and a better indication of core body temperatures over the infrared forehead thermometers."
"A true fever is 100.4 degrees and may be a tell tale sign in diagnosing Covid versus any number of other cold-weather illness," she says. "Being able to identify a fever and how long it's persisted can aid in directing treatment towards the best possible outcome."
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