NOTE TO READERS: As flu, RSV and COVID-19 coincide this virus season, we are presenting a series on the role of rapid testing to give both healthcare professionals and consumers quick results. The first story in the series looks at the role of testing for RSV. The second story in the series looks at the role of testing for the flu As we enter the third cold and flu season since the start of the pandemic, we know that COVID-19 is here to stay. Now that we are coexisting with the disease, we’ve learned that while some safety practices continue to evolve, others have stayed the same. Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 as we head into the holiday season. What’s Staying the Same Viruses continue to mutate. Variants of COVID-19 have continued to pop up, and that trend will continue as the virus look for ways to survive as a natural part of its lifespan. The safety precautions that we took at the beginning of the pandemic are still effective: washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick and wearing a mask if you’re at-risk or in a high-risk location. The nature of COVID-19 means these protocols remain effective. What’s Evolved Our vaccines have evolved along with variants. It has always been important to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but as the virus evolves, it’s important to make sure our protection is updated too. The new bivalent vaccine booster now targets multiple mutations of COVID-19 and provides additional protection against infection compared to previous vaccines. The booster shots can help make sure that what could be a deadly infection is much less harmful. At vaccines.gov you can find the best location to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Testing has also changed. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only option for testing was to go to a doctor’s office or a testing site. Now, at-home testing allows you to know if you have COVID-19 from home. The FDA now recommends that if you are displaying COVID-19 symptoms, you should take two at-home tests within 48 hours until you either receive a positive result or you have tested negative twice. If you are asymptomatic, you should take three at-home tests over four days, or until you get a positive result to best increase your chances of detecting the virus when you are most infectious. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was no treatment for COVID-19. Antibiotics and other medications that work well with bacterial infections don’t work on viruses, so the only way to get better was to let the virus run its course. But antiviral medications are now available to help reduce the disease’s severity. For people who are more likely to get very sick — including older adults, people who are unvaccinated and people with other chronic medical conditions — antivirals can be a gamechanger. Oral antivirals can be taken in a regimen at home, while IV antiviral medications are administered through an IV, often at a healthcare facility. If you fall into a risk category, don’t wait. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is. Staying Safe for the Holidays We know the ever-changing nature of guidance, testing and treatment options can be overwhelming. One thing that remains consistent is how important it is to keep our families and communities healthy. Following the simple COVID-19 safety practices discussed above can help you and your loved ones enjoy the holidays with peace of mind.