Just days after Congresswoman Maxine Waters attended the Summit of the Americas in downtown LA last week, she tested positive for COVID-19. It was the second time in less than two months Waters has tested positive.
Until recently, many people who got COVID-19 thought they had months or years of protection from getting it again. But researchers tell the NBC4 I-Team that’s not the case.
“I’m not surprised to see people testing positive a second and third time,” says Dr. Saahir Khan, an infectious disease expert at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.
“The virus is mutating very quickly,” Dr. Khan told NBC4.
Doctors like Khan say if you got infected with the Omicron BA.1 or BA.2 variants, your antibodies might not fully protect you against the newer BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants now spreading through Southern California.
“As the virus mutates more and more, the antibodies to the prior variants give less and less protection over time,” Dr. Khan says.
But public health experts say second and third infections are often very “manageable.”
“The thing about these reinfections, is they get increasingly milder. Much less likely to even cause you to call your doctor,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
So how soon can you get COVID for a second or third time, after a previous infection?
US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive this past Monday, less than a month after his first positive test.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a hard and fast timeline when you can get reinfected. It’s just that your protection wanes over time, over the course of a few months,” says Dr. Khan at USC.
Public health experts say the vaccines that are now available might not prevent reinfection by newer variants, but a new class of vaccines that could be out by this fall could provide wider protection.
“COVID is spread through the air, particularly in indoor spaces where people share the same air. And so what you can do to prevent reinfection is wear a mask indoors, particularly in a high risk situation where a lot of people congregate, like airports and grocery stores, Dr. Khan told the I-Team.