Healthy Living 2022: So You Had COVID: Now What?

At high-risk locations, like theme parks, people should exercise additional precaution to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Photo by Charly SHELTON


With the recent spike of COVID-19 cases over the holidays, it is very likely that every person in Los Angeles County knows someone who contracted the virus. With daily positive case counts more than double the previous peak of the pandemic last January, and more than 3500% of when the first shutdown was enacted in March 2020, the number of people in LA County who have had COVID-19 since Christmas is roughly one in 10.

So for the nearly 100,000 people in LA who tested positive in the last month and have since recovered, the major question hanging over their heads is – “Now what?”

The omicron variant is fueling this surge of cases and the preliminary data indicate that this strain is less virulent than the previous variants of COVID-19 but has much higher transmissibility rates.

“In a number of [in-vitro animal] studies, ones that have been done individually and cooled, in mice and hamster models it was shown that the virus of omicron proliferates very well in the upper airway and bronchi, but actually very poorly in the lungs,” said White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci in the weekly White House COVID 19 Response Team press briefing, “which actually goes along with, doesn’t prove but goes along with, the concept that you have a very transmissible virus with upper airway secretion but a virus that has less pathogenicity in the lung.”

What this means for those who have recovered is that the likelihood and intensity of lingering effects should similarly be lessened due to the lessened severity of symptoms in the lungs during infection. In addition, having gone through the infection leaves the host with antibodies to omicron, which gives another layer of protection from reinfection in the future.

“For [people] who have had the virus recently, including children too young for vaccination, they should carry some immunity going forward, at least until the next variant comes around,” said Dr. John Rodarte, pediatrician with Descanso Pediatrics in La Cañada, part of Huntington Health Physicians. “Unfortunately, there is no blanket statement for everyone showing how much or how long that immunity will last. And studies have shown that natural immunity is greatly enhanced by vaccination, including boosters.”

With fresh immunity, for the short-term at least, and a lower likelihood of severe aftereffects from infection, many who had COVID-19 recently are excited to get back out in the world, less nervous about catching the virus. And yes, normal life can resume after the quarantine period of five days with a negative test for vaccinated individuals or 10 days for unvaccinated or positive-testing individuals. But the mask mandates are still in place regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. And beyond the mandate, it is still a smart idea to wear a high-quality N95 mask when in public because of the uncertainty of antibody immunity.

 “While [previously infected individuals] do have antibodies for a while and should be protected to some degree, it is not known how long those antibodies will be protective,” Dr. Rodarte said. “Therefore, whenever [people] go out for public gatherings and events, safety precautions should still be taken while we remain in the midst of this pandemic.”

For children returning to school after a bout with COVID-19, it is more difficult to safeguard going forward.

“The five-day CDC guideline really was meant more for the adult work force due to a shortage of workers. This is much harder to follow for children going to school, since the recommendation is to keep an N95 mask on at all times and not take it off to eat around others,” Dr. Rodarte said. “This makes it very difficult since children do need to eat lunch and no one is able to fully monitor their mask-wearing throughout the school day, thus potentially exposing more children.”

And, for very young children including those under 5 years old who are too young to be vaccinated, there is still a risk of MIS-C, a rare but dangerous side effect for kids. This is as true for omicron as it was for the other variants. But now, Dr. Rodarte said, there is also an uptick in incidence of diabetes in children after COVID infection.

“There is still much to be learned about how often this occurs, but it’s another reason why it is still better to reduce the incidence of infection with vaccination,” Dr. Rodarte said. “Now is not the time for COVID parties like parents used to do with chicken pox.”