Q&A How to Protect Myself and Others from COVID?

Q&A How to Protect Myself and Others from COVID?

Comprehensive Guide on COVID-19 Guidelines: Expert Insights and Recommendations

Sept. 18, 2023 – Americans may have a range of opinions on hot-button issues, but they seem to align on at least one: Wishing COVID-19 was truly behind us once and for all.

COVID-19

But 4 months after the CDC announced the COVID public health emergency was officially over, hospitalizations have increased almost 9% and deaths have risen almost 5% from the previous week, according to the most recent CDC data. The recent COVID uptick could mean a return to testing, isolation, and masking. So what are the recommendations again?

The Guidelines

The CDC’s guidance around COVID hasn’t changed much: If you test positive, isolate from everyone for 5 days and then, depending on whether symptoms are improving or if you still have a fever, you may need to continue to isolate.

As we find ourselves more than 3 years into the pandemic, with the public emergency over, we may wonder if these guidelines are still the most effective and reasonable. To get some clarity, HealthyGrown reached out to an emergency room doctor, a family doctor, and an infectious disease expert for a refresher.

What to Do If You Suspect COVID

Q: What should you do if you are sick and think you might have COVID? Should you still isolate until you have test results?

Leana Wen, MD, an emergency medicine doctor and health policy professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., advises that everybody should keep a supply of rapid home antigen tests on hand. Taking a test as soon as symptoms develop is important, especially if they live with individuals who are more vulnerable to severe illness. If that is the case, they should isolate from those individuals while they are symptomatic, regardless of test results.

Dana Hawkinson, MD, an infectious disease doctor and medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, KS, emphasizes the importance of early testing if you have symptoms. Look for free testing sites available through state or county agencies or consider performing at-home testing. However, for at-home testing, you may need to test on a couple of different days 24-48 hours apart. If you are symptomatic, it is best to stay home, isolate, and wear a mask around others.

Duration of Isolation

Q: How long should you isolate if you get a positive test result or diagnosis? Should you stay home from work and isolate from family?

Leana Wen clarifies that there is some misunderstanding about CDC guidelines. The agency recommends that someone with mild symptoms isolate until after day 5, with “day zero” being the day of their positive test. During this time, the person should stay away from others in the same household, sleeping and eating in a separate room if possible.

After day 5, the CDC guidelines technically state that people should continue isolating, but they can be in the same space if they wear a mask. However, this recommendation was made more so that individuals can go back to work if they’re essential workers or take public transportation to work. It is important to note that this does not mean they can go back to having meals with their elderly grandparents.

According to Dana Hawkinson, the best practice is to always stay home if you are ill. You may end your isolation if 5 days have passed since symptoms started, you are fever-free for 24 hours, and your symptoms are improving if you have or had mild illness. With moderate illness, such as shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, isolation through 10 days after symptom onset is recommended.

Prolonged Symptoms and Life Activities

Q: What should you do if you continue to test positive or experience symptoms over an extended period of time? How should you proceed with life activities like going to the office or place of worship, taking the kids to practice, etc.?

Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a family doctor in Long Island, NY, highlights the possibility of long COVID. This condition occurs when someone does not return to their normal state of health following acute COVID-19 illness. Long COVID can include symptoms such as brain fog, muscle fatigue, shortness of breath, and extended loss of taste and smell. Experts are still working to understand more about who experiences long COVID and its long-term effects.

Dana Hawkinson advises that symptoms may linger for weeks. It is crucial to determine if the symptoms are improving from the time when they were at their worst. The CDC recommends testing with an antigen test when you want to remove your mask before 10 days after symptom onset. In such a case, two negative antigen tests at least 48 hours apart are necessary.

Protecting Children and Family Members

Q: What if you’re back to normal but confused about how to protect children or other family members? Should you monitor children, take off work for weeks at a time, etc.?

According to Tochi Iroku-Malize, it can be stressful managing family, business, and social obligations while COVID-19 is still at large. If you do get sick, your family physician can help you create a health plan that works best for you and your family members.

Dana Hawkinson acknowledges that household contacts have a high risk of exposure. It is crucial to continue monitoring those around you for symptoms, both in your personal and family sphere. If exposure is suspected, it is recommended to mask and monitor for symptoms for the next 10 days, with testing recommended 5 full days after the exposure, provided no symptoms have been experienced.

The Role of At-Home COVID Tests

Q: How useful are at-home COVID tests at this point?

According to Tochi Iroku-Malize, at-home self-tests for COVID-19 are still useful and effective. Testing can be helpful even when you don’t have symptoms or a recent exposure to COVID-19. It can be done before an event or visiting someone to ensure you’re not inadvertently exposing others.

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Every ounce of prevention helps create a community of immunity.

For the latest COVID updates, including rates of hospitalizations and deaths, and information to help keep you and your loved ones safe, visit the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker site.