Tag Archives: covid-19

COVID-19 Update: How It Affects You

By: MEDICAL DIRECTORS FALANA CARTER, MD and JERRY I. LEVINE, MD, PA

COVID-19 continues to spread in Maryland. Individuals who remain unvaccinated are at the greatest risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 including highly contagious variants resulting in hospitalization and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance recommends booster vaccines for adults over 65, those with high-risk medical conditions, and individuals at risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission due their occupation or institutional settings. The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine has been approved for a booster after two months. The Pfizer vaccine is available for children 12 and older, and soon will be approved for children 5 years and older. Here’s how the latest COVID-19 news affects you.

The Delta variant

Like many other viruses, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) continually changes, producing new strains with features different from the original virus. The Delta variant is the most common form of the virus in the U.S. today and is very dangerous, causing most new COVID-19 infections. Here’s what you should know:

  • The Delta variant is significantly more contagious than previous variants, infecting many more people.
  • The Delta variant appears to cause more severe illness in unvaccinated people than previous variants, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in preventing Delta infections, and the vast majority of new hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people.
  • Fully vaccinated people can get “breakthrough” Delta infections, but they are rare and are generally less severe than in unvaccinated people.
  • Fully vaccinated people with Delta breakthrough infections can spread the virus to others, but vaccinated people appear to be contagious for a shorter period of time.

Booster shots

COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective against the virus months after vaccination, but their effectiveness will decrease over time.  The effectiveness of the vaccine is enhanced by getting a booster shot. Based on CDC recommendations, these groups are eligible for booster vaccines:

  • Adults 65 or older who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago
  • Adults 18-64 with underlying high-risk medical conditions
  • Adults 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission due to their work or institutional settings
  • All adults 18 or older who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine at least two months ago

Also, individuals with compromised immune systems are eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days after the first two doses.

Boosters may be “mixed and matched,” heterologous dosing. While preference remains to obtain the same booster as the primary vaccine, either Moderna or Pfizer can be received as a booster for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. This can be discussed with your primary care provider.

MPCP administers the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines in our offices, and many of our offices will also offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine starting November 1.

Call your MPCP office to schedule an appointment to receive a booster dose. Vaccines are also available at your local pharmacy or health department clinic.

COVID vaccines for children

The CDC is recommending COVID-19 vaccination for children 12+. Here’s the latest:

  • Fewer children have been infected with COVID-19 than adults, but they can still get sick from the virus and spread it to others.
  • CDC recommends everyone 12 years and older should get a vaccination to protect them and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • The two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective for children 12+. As with adults, serious side effects from the vaccine are rare in children, and the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the potential risks.

If you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, contact your MPCP doctor or visit Maryland’s covidLINK website.

Dr. Levine is an MPCP partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He serves as MPCP’s Medical Director and Vice President, and sees patients in the Columbia office.

Dr. Carter is an MPCP partner and is certified by the American Board of Family Physicians. She serves as Assistant Medical Director and sees patients in the Arundel Mills office.

What the New CDC COVID-19 Guidelines Mean to You

By: FALANA CARTER, M.D.

With growing numbers of people getting COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC has released new guidelines to keep us safe as we leave our homes and return to public life. The guidelines include recommendations for both those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t.

If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume some of the activities you did prior to the pandemic

You are considered fully vaccinated 1) two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or 2) two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s Jansen vaccine.

  • You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, except where required by local governments or businesses. Maryland’s mask order — which required face coverings indoors at schools, day care centers, medical settings and on mass transit — ended July 1. However, a federal order requiring masks on planes, subways, buses and other mass transit remains in effect, and local governments can set their own rules. Also, as we informed patients in a recent email, MPCP is following CDC and OSHA guidelines that healthcare staff should continue to wear masks and personal protective equipment, and people visiting our offices should continue to wear masks.
  • If you travel in the United States, you do not need to get tested or self-quarantine after travel.
  • The COVID-19 situation varies greatly around the world, so check international conditions if you plan to travel abroad.
  • If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.
  • If you have a health condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, talk to your MPCP provider about your activities.

If you are not fully vaccinated, continue to take all precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19

About 25% of Marylanders have not gotten any of the vaccine (as of July 15), which means the virus still has plenty of opportunity to spread. If you aren’t fully vaccinated:

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
  • Stay six feet apart from others who don’t live with you.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as possible.

With the arrival of new types of the coronavirus, and the possibility that infections will again spike in the fall, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated. Call your MPCP office today to schedule your vaccination.

Falana Carter, M.D.Dr. Carter is an MPCP partner and received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine. She is certified by the American Board of Family Physicians and provides patient care in the Arundel Mills office.

2021 Allergy Forecast: A Bad Year for Everyone?

BY: MICHAEL VOLKER, CRNP

Like taxes, allergy season is one of those things you just can’t avoid. In fact, due to climate change, it may be getting worse. Warmer temperatures lead to more pollen production, so 2021 may be the most intense allergy season yet. And due to COVID-19 quarantine, children may especially have a rough year.

When is allergy season?

It starts in the spring and continues until the fall, but different allergens, the substances that trigger allergies, appear at different times.

March and April: As spring begins, tree pollen is the top allergen, followed by weeds and grasses. In some parts of Maryland, it’s not unusual to see cars covered by the itchy stuff.

May to July: In May, all the trees, grass and weeds gang up to pump out allergens, making it a bad time for allergy sufferers. This is the start of peak allergy season, which continues until July.

July to September: Enter ragweed, a common flowering plant. Ragweed is the leading cause of seasonal allergies, with 75% of all sufferers allergic to it.

October: With temperatures falling and plants starting to go dormant, the air starts to clear, bringing an end to outdoor allergy season. Now it’s possible to breathe a sigh of relief without coughing.


See the Interactive Allergy Forecaster for allergy conditions where you live.


COVID-19 and children’s allergies

Many children have been quarantined for the past year, with limited time outdoors. Now that they’re starting to return to their regular routines, you may notice they’re sneezing, coughing and rubbing their eyes more than they have in past allergy seasons. This may be because spending a year indoors has made them more sensitive to allergies.

Children need some exposure to allergens for their immune systems to learn how to fight them. Since many kids have had limited exposure to outdoor allergens for a year, they may have stronger allergic reactions than they had in the past.

Surviving allergy season

The best thing for both adults and children to do is minimize your exposure to allergens. Try not to go outside when the pollen count is high. Use the Interactive Allergy Forecaster to see what allergy conditions are in your area and get forecasts for tree, grass and ragweed pollen. Other things to try:

  • If you have pets, keep  them in the house on high-pollen days. Pollen may stick to their fur and end up in your nose.
  • Change your AC filters  regularly and consider getting a HEPA air filter to strain allergens out of the air in your home.
  • Use over-the-counter allergy medicines to relieve symptoms: antihistamines to relieve your itchy nose and sneezing, and decongestants to get rid of your stuffy nose.
  • On high pollen days, change your clothes when coming in from outside.
  • Keep windows and doors closed to reduce pollen entering the house.

If your or your child’s allergy symptoms are severe or continue a long time, your health care provider may be able to help or refer you to an allergist.

Michael Volker, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, received his Master of Science in Nursing degree from Walden University and is certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. He sees patients in the Arundel Mills office.

A Good Night’s Sleep in Anxious Times

By: Michael Volker, CRNP

During office visits, it’s not unusual for patients to tell me they’re experiencing stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, and it’s spoiling their sleep. This is normal, I tell them: COVID-19 messes with our lives in many ways, including our ability to sleep well.

Getting a good night’s sleep is more important than ever in these troubled times. If you’re well rested, you lower your risk of getting sick, reduce stress and depression, and generally feel better.

Here are some tips I give my patients who are having trouble sleeping. They’re designed to put your mind at ease so you can get restful, healthful sleep.

Understand what makes you anxious
Think about why your anxiety is bad at bedtime and what you can do to ease it. Do you watch TV news at night? Spend time on social media? Worry that you’re going to get the virus? All these can raise your anxiety level and increase sleeplessness. While it’s impossible to shut off all worry, it helps to avoid things that make you anxious, especially at bedtime.

Exercise during the day
Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes five or more days a week can help you relax and fall into a deep sleep. Moderate exercise could be a brisk walk where you can still carry on a conversation. Vigorous exercise, like running, is also good, but do it at least two hours before going to bed.

Limit nap time
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you do nap, limit yourself to 30 minutes and avoid napping late in the day.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Both of these can mess up your natural sleep rhythms and cause wakefulness. Stop drinking alcohol at least two hours before bed, and try not to drink caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.

Instead, try herbal teas in the evening to relax and unwind. Popular choices include chamomile and lavender, available in many stores.

Develop a bedtime routine
Having a regular bedtime routine tells your mind and body it’s time to slow down and prepare for sleep. Tailor your routine to your own needs, but it could include:

  • Keep to a sleep schedule. A regular bedtime helps maintain your body’s internal clock.
  • Prepare your bedroom. At night, you want a dark, quiet and cool room to fall asleep. Try adjusting your thermostat to a lower temperature, changing to cotton or bamboo linens, or taking a shower/bath before bed.
  • Wash your sheets regularly. Clean linens can also help you fall asleep faster.
  • Quiet your mind. Before you go to bed, empty your worries and anxieties. For example, write down what you have to do the next day and then put it in a drawer. Or write down your anxious thoughts, then crumple the paper and throw it away to let your worries go.
  • Turn off your TV, phone and other electronics at least one hour before bed. Using devices in the bedroom leads to higher insomnia, a later wake-up time, shorter sleep duration, and greater fatigue. If you are watching TV or using your phone at night time, turn on the blue light filter or wear blue light filtering glasses.
  • Find relaxing bedtime activities. Calm your mind by reading a book, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, or meditating.

Try melatonin instead of sleeping pills
Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. It is available as a supplement, which some people take to help them fall asleep. Melatonin is not habit forming. Try to avoid other night time medications, such as Tylenol PM or Advil PM. These contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Usually they only help you fall asleep and do not promote restful sleep, and diphenhydramine can also become habit forming.

If you wake up
If worry makes you wake up in the middle of the night, try this:

  • Don’t lie there, get out of bed.
  • Remove yourself from the bedroom or sit in a chair in the bedroom.
  • Do screen-free activities to get sleepy again.

Know when to contact your doctor
During this time of COVID-19, nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night, but if your sleeplessness continues, contact your MPCP provider. We can help you identify and treat any underlying causes that may be keeping you from a good night’s sleep.

More resources for you:
9 Resources for Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety, Healthline
9 Tips for A Good Night’s Sleep, Psych Central

 

Michael Volker, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, received his B.S. in Nursing degree from University of Maryland Baltimore School of Nursing and his M.S. in Nursing degree from Walden University, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Volker is certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. He sees patients in the Arundel Mills office.