CHARLOTTE – As omicron overtakes delta as the dominant COVID variant, more people are receiving texts like this one: “I’m sorry for the news, but someone from Friday tested positive for COVID and now I have it… Just wanted to make you aware.”
Perhaps you weren’t knowingly exposed, but your symptoms say otherwise. So, ‘What now?’
Equally important as knowing what to do next is what not to do – especially as health systems battle another COVID surge, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality, and epidemiology officer.
“North Carolina has seen a 166% increase in COVID cases in just the last two weeks. And we’re setting records for the number of new cases basically every day,” he said.
It’s imperative that people get the care they need when they need it – in the right place. And the emergency room is likely not the best option.
“If you’re critically ill or you have COVID and you can’t breathe, certainly seek emergency care. But if you’re otherwise healthy and just looking for a COVID test, please do not go to the emergency department,” Priest said.
Here are 5 things to know before driving to the nearest testing location:
1. What symptoms should I watch for?
Omicron symptoms vary slightly from earlier variants, Priest said, and most commonly present as upper respiratory infections, sore throat, fever, headache, cough and congestion.
“I don’t personally see as much of the loss of taste and smell we saw earlier in the pandemic,” he said. “So, these variants all have a different predilection for different parts of human anatomy and that can make their presentation a bit different. If you have symptoms of fever, sore throat, headache, congestion and cough right now, there’s a pretty good chance you have COVID given the number of cases we’re seeing.”
Other COVID symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Muscle or body aches.
- New loss of taste or smell.
2. Take advantage of our self-guided assessment tool.
Individuals with questions about whether they should seek a COVID test are encouraged to use Novant Health’s online self-guided assessment tool. This assessment is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used if patients are experiencing a life-threatening emergency. Established Novant Health patients can also call their primary care physician’s office with questions related to COVID symptoms or testing.
3. How to schedule a COVID-19 test.
- Novant Health COVID testing locations and hours are located here. To help reduce wait times and ensure the availability of tests, people are asked to make an appointment. Please note, these testing locations are intended for asymptomatic patients with potential exposure and symptomatic patients. And rapid tests are not available at these locations.
- Novant Health patients can call their primary care physician’s office to inquire about testing. Or consider scheduling a virtual care exam to find out whether a COVID test is necessary.
- Testing continues to be available at Novant Health GoHealth Urgent Care centers for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, depending on location. Individuals can save their spot online or schedule a virtual visit here.
- Asymptomatic patients who are seeking travel, return-to-work or return-to-school clearance are instead asked to use the NCDHHS website to find a location that best suits their needs.
4. Are rapid antigen tests a good option?
Rapid antigen tests are available for purchase online and in drug stores (if you can find one), while others opt for a professional to do the swabbing.
PCR lab tests are most reliable in determining if someone has COVID, Priest said, though rapid tests are also considered an essential tool in reducing virus spread.
“We shouldn’t dismiss rapid tests altogether. They’re pretty accurate in detecting COVID and even omicron, but they can be falsely negative in some cases,” he cautioned.
The bottom line on rapid tests: Pay attention not only to your test result, but what symptoms you have.
“If you have all the signs and symptoms of COVID, I wouldn’t rely on a single rapid test to determine you’re negative,” Priest said. “Let’s say you were around someone with COVID and now you have a fever or sore throat. If your rapid antigen test says it’s negative, I’d isolate for a day or two, then do another one. Essentially, I’m encouraging people to do a couple over a few days to ensure that they truly do not have COVID.”
5. What are the current recommendations on isolation and quarantine?
People with COVID should isolate for five days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. If they’re improving or have no symptoms at the end of that period, isolation is no longer required but guidance suggests they wear a mask around others for five additional days.
“I think this change was brought on by newer data that people with omicron are most likely to be infectious one to two days prior to getting symptoms, as well as the desire to balance safety and keeping society open,” Priest said.
The CDC also updated their recommendations on quarantining if someone is exposed to COVID but asymptomatic. Unvaccinated or unboosted persons should quarantine for five days followed by “strict masking” for five more days.
“If your vaccination is up-to-date, meaning you’re not yet eligible for a booster or you’ve been boosted, you do not have to quarantine or stay home if exposed to COVID. But the CDC suggests you wear a mask for 10 days when around others. And in both cases, they did say to consider getting a test on the fifth day,” he added.
Knowing where to seek care is important, as are COVID vaccines and boosters. Data has shown that three doses of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine provides a “significant boost in protection against omicron. It’s not 100% but like I’ve said, nothing in medicine is,” Priest said.
And don’t forget your mask next time you head out the door.