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Here Are Your Chances of Catching COVID Twice Now

Yes, you can get infected again.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Because of the coronavirus's ability to mutate—and, so far, become even more contagious—experts say COVID-19 isn't going to disappear anytime soon. If you've already contracted the virus, you may be wondering how likely you are to catch it again, and what you should do to protect yourself. These are your chances of catching COVID twice, according to science. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Are Your Chances of Catching COVID Twice?

Woman being sick having flu sitting on bed alone at home, having high fever or temperature, touching forehead

Earlier in the pandemic, studies found that catching Delta or an earlier variant was 84 to 90 percent protective against contracting COVID again. The Omicron variant changed everything. Studies have found that Omicron only provided about 50 percent protection against reinfection. And its subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are both more contagious and more likely to cause reinfections. 

"The Omicron variant, in particular, seems to be one that will re-infect people over and over again," Kelly McNagny, a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia, told Global News in late May. "It's a little bit more like the common cold virus that tends to infect the upper airways, which is a place where you tend not to develop strong immunity easily."


Could Immunity Last Only Weeks?

Woman with face mask sneezing into elbow while sitting in a cafe.

Earlier in the pandemic, experts thought being infected with Omicron might protect you from another bout with the virus for at least three months. The virus has evolved to narrow that window—to as little as 20 days, according to one recent study by Danish scientists.


Is There A Bottom Line?


So how much immunity can you expect? Because the virus is evolving so quickly, the answer is far from certain. But one study has shed some light. 

In the UK, the Office of National Statistics analyzed reinfections there from the start of the pandemic to mid-December 2021, when Omicron had been the dominant strain for several weeks. They found the time between reinfections ranged from 90 to 650 days, with the average being 343 days—almost a year. 

Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University, used that data to create a graph on Instagram that showed the likelihood of catching COVID twice. "Reinfection is possible within the first three months, but it looks unlikely," she said.


"Most of the epidemiological data would suggest people are generally protected for a couple months," Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital told NBC 10 Boston recently. "But there's a caveat to that as well. If you're exposed to a completely different strain, then that new second infection could happen sooner than a few months."

"Looking at it from a big picture perspective, if you look at the data from South Africa, there is a regular periodicity of a new wave coming every four months or so that suggests probable protection for several months, then a new variant emerges and even if you've been infected before, you're susceptible to the new variant," he said.


Reinfections Seem Milder

Young woman in a medical mask lies in bed.

The good news is that COVID reinfections, when they do happen, generally seem to be shorter and milder. That's because the immune system has been encountered the virus before and knows how to react. And being fully vaccinated and boosted continues to provide robust protection against serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

To protect yourself against reinfection, it's important to stay informed about the latest public-health recommendations about the virus, including additional vaccine doses, masking, and social distancing. "​​"A major factor that increases the likelihood of reinfection is the waning immunity from a previous infection or not being fully up-to-date with COVID-19 immunization, including additional doses," Lisa Glover, assistant director of Alberta Health, told Global News.


How to Stay Safe Out There


Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael