When COVID-19 first hit, there was a debate as to whether it would run its course through the world and then disappear or if it would continue to recur each year and become a largely seasonal threat like the flu.

We have an answer and unfortunately the answer is the latter.

While COVID is no longer ringing up the same death tolls, health officials with the State of North Carolina are reminding residents that COVID remains a concern and the elaborate response mechanism established to address infections remains.

A Wednesday, Sept. 6 press release from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) reads,  “During the current period where COVID-19 cases are increasing, treatment is readily available and appropriate for the majority of North Carolinians. Using antiviral treatments reduces the risk of serious illness and preliminary data indicates treatment is associated with reduced risk of developing long-COVID. Treatment works most effectively when started early and is advised for those at high risk for severe disease, even if your current symptoms are mild.”

State officials realize that many North Carolina residents – some of whom have now had the disease multiple times – are treating it with less concern.

According to state health officials, there are no supply constraints limiting medical providers’ ability to prescribe treatment. The September 6 press release stated that NCDHHS recently sent a memo to health care providers around the state with updated information on treatment options for their patients with COVID-19.

Testing frequently and getting treatment will minimize the spread to others, which of course is one of the department’s main goals.

There’s also little to no cost for some services.  People with a positive test result can access treatment through eMed’s Home Test to Treat Program – a free nationwide telemedicine program.

State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson said the medical community in the state is certainly in a much better place than it was three years ago.

“We expect COVID-19 trends to rise and fall, but we are in a much different place than we were at the start of the pandemic. We have the tools to manage COVID-19, so it doesn’t manage us. Treatments are safe, effective and widely available.”

Some of the tools in the tool chest are as follows:

• The most up-to-date booster for circulating variants is expected to be available later this month.

• Oral antiviral medications for COVID-19 are being distributed for free by the US Government. Any prescribing provider in the state can send a prescription for oral antiviral drugs to the nearest pharmacy that has the drug in stock.

• Paxlovid is the preferred oral antiviral per COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines and it can be given to people 12 years and older.

 • People can visit  the “Testing and Treatment”  section of the ncdhhs.gov site for information on how to get COVID-19 tests and more information on accessing treatment.

• Those interested can check out the North Carolina Respiratory Virus Summary Dashboard for current information on respiratory virus activity, including COVID-19, influenza and RSV.