Think You’ve Got COVID-19? With Tests In Short Supply, Prepare To Ride It Out At Home
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If you or someone in your household is sick with a fever and cough, you may be dealing with another symptom: the fear that you have coronavirus.
What are you supposed to do?
First of all, don’t panic. Remember that it’s still flu and cold season in the U.S., and seasonal allergies are starting up, too. Unless your symptoms are getting dramatically worse or you feel short of breath, you may not need to seek medical treatment (though it’s OK to call your doctor and ask).
The second thing to know is that coronavirus testing is still limited at this point. Unless you’re really sick, you’ve had contact with someone known to have COVID-19, or you’ve recently traveled to an area where there’s a known outbreak, you may not be able to get tested to find out if you have coronavirus or something else.
In fact, even if you have traveled to an affected region, you may not be able to get a test. That’s what happened to Shapri LoMaglio, a Washington, D.C., resident who returned last Wednesday from a nearly monthlong stay in Italy. When she got back to the U.S., airport signs told travelers to call their doctors if they started experiencing cold or flu symptoms.
When she woke up Sunday morning with a dry cough and congestion, that’s exactly what LoMaglio did. But her doctor told her to call the CDC. After waiting 4 1/2 hours to speak to a person at the CDC hotline, she was told, “Call your doctor.”
“I told her, I said, I feel like I’m in Groundhog Day,” LoMaglio says with a wry laugh. She’s now waiting for a return call from the D.C. Department of Health to see if she qualifies for a COVID-19 test.
In the meantime, her symptoms have resolved and she thinks she may have just been experiencing seasonal allergies. But she’s isolating herself as best she can for now, just to be safe.
And that’s exactly what public health officials are advising for people with mild or moderate symptoms: Avoid going to your doctor’s office or a hospital to try to get tested for coronavirus if you don’t have severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath.
Instead, stay home. Stay home. Stay home, already. It might be boring advice, but it’s critical to stopping the spread of whatever you have. And you don’t need to wait for a COVID-19 test or a doctor’s instructions to do it.
Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization notes that 90% of COVID-19 patients have a high fever as an early symptom and 70% have a dry cough. “It’s not the sniffles,” he says. “It’s not a runny nose. That can be a symptom, but that’s rare.”
“Because this is such a novel situation, people want a novel approach to handling it. They want a novel way to better isolate themselves or some crazy new hand-hygiene technique,” says Saskia Popescu, senior infection prevention epidemiologist at HonorHealth, a health system in Phoenix. “That’s just not the case. These are tried and true methods — we just need to be really vigilant with them.”
How isolated and for how long?
Self-isolating at home when you’re sick — with coronavirus or any other respiratory infection like influenza — means not going out in crowded public places or on public transit. Just hunker down at home until you’re fully recovered.
Do the basics to manage your symptoms. “Stay hydrated, take a fever-reducing medicine if you feel like you need to,” says epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
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