Surviving the Rona – Your Guide to Weathering Covid’s Latest Surge

Where am I supposed to find an N95 mask? Do I need to see a doctor? Do I have Covid or is this just the flu?  Or do I have Flurona?

These are just a few of the questions that I had when I recently found myself in bed with a fever, chills, and a sore throat. With Omicron still raging across the nation and flu season being in full effect, it’s perfectly understandable if you’re a little confused about what to do if you find yourself coming down with something that may or may not be Covid.

So, to help you out in your time of need (You’re welcome, by the way), we spoke with long-time friend and AmPopsy supporter, Dr. Steven Chang, MD and Primary Care Program Director at Crossover Health.  Board-certified in family health, he’s been in clinical practice since 2005 and was gracious enough to spend some time with us answering a laundry list of our most pressing questions.

The result? A handy little resource guide to help you get a handle on all things Covid and Omicron-related so that you can stop googling and start getting some answers to questions that will help you get through this Covid madness.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

How do I know if I have Covid as opposed to the flu or a regular cold?

If you happen to get sick this cold and flu season, it can be difficult to tell whether you have a cold, flu, or Covid, especially if you’ve received your Covid-19 vaccines. Those who received booster shots are much more likely to experience mild Covid symptoms which may mimic cold or flu. The Mayo Clinic has a terrific resource that can help you differentiate between these illnesses. In general, Covid tends to cause high fever, chills, severe headache, cough and sore throat as initial symptoms. Later, severe cough and shortness of breath may develop. A unique feature of Covid is the loss of one’s sense of smell and taste, which is uncommon with cold and flu. If this happens to you, it is highly likely that you have Covid.

Do I really need to get tested if I’m experiencing Covid symptoms given the massive test shortage?

Clinicians don’t always have to rely on the results of a test to make the diagnosis of Covid, and neither do you. If you develop Covid-like symptoms, especially after coming into contact with someone known to have Covid, you can likely assume you are infected as well. If you are unable to get tested and you aren’t certain what your symptoms mean, I suggest contacting your doctor’s office to speak with a nurse. Often, they can confirm your suspicions over the phone. 

Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash

If I decide to get tested, how do I find a test or a testing site?

Tests may be found at your local pharmacy or via any large online retailer. Even non-medical outlets, such as Wyze, have shifted to meet demand by selling rapid tests. I suggest sticking to established sellers to reduce the likelihood of counterfeit tests, which haven’t been a major issue to this point. But, you can never be too careful. Whatever test you buy, double check this list to make sure it has received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status from the FDA.

Most national pharmacies such as CVS, RiteAid, and Walgreens have onsite testing capability. Community-based public health care institutions and clinics are another place to look. A good place to start your search is the Health and Human Services’ test finder website that can connect you to local testing sites.

Editor’s Note: As of January 20, 2022, you can now order free at-home tests, courtesy of the Biden Administration, via this website. Keep in mind that tests ordered through this site can take at least a week to ship to households, so it’s a good idea to order them now in case you need them later.

What’s the best way to manage Covid symptoms? And how do I know when to seek medical attention?

Here are some general recommendations to help you manage your illness course:

  1. Sleep: Your body needs sleep to heal. If it’s telling you to sleep, do it.
  2. Nutrition and hydration: Proper nutrition and hydration is essential. Do the best you can to consume a variety of fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and hydrate with water, teas, soups, electrolyte drinks, juices, anything that is palatable.
  3. Stop or limit smoking, vaping, and alcohol use.
  4. Tylenol or ibuprofen may be used to help with fever and body aches.

The following devices may be helpful:

  1. Thermometer
  2. Blood pressure cuff
  3. Pulse oximeter

Here’s when additional medical attention is required:

  1. Persistent fever that can’t be reduced by tylenol or ibuprofen
  2. A significant drop in your normal blood pressure
  3. If your oxygen saturation dips below 94% at rest or into the 80’s with any activity
  4. Persistent shortness of breath, especially when you’re at rest
  5. Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  6. New confusion
  7. Inability to wake or stay awake
  8. Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
Photo by Eric Masur on Unsplash

How long do I need to isolate before I can safely resume activities such as exercise, going to the grocery store, or getting a mani (asking for a friend)?

If you have Covid, CDC’s latest recommendation is to:

  • Stay home for 5 days.
  • If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after 5 days, you can leave your house.
  • Continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days.

The reason we ask that you continue to wear a mask for 5 additional days is because you may still be infectious to others. Therefore, my recommendation is to continue to shelter in place if possible, especially if you’re still not feeling your best. Diverting your energy to other activities may delay your body’s ability to heal.

Are at-home tests reliable in detecting Covid?

At-home tests are tricky in that they are not the most sensitive tests and must be used at the ideal time during one’s infection. The short answer is that they are best used when you have symptoms. Compared to PCR (molecular) tests, antigen tests are more likely to generate false negative results when performed on people who are asymptomatic. To offset this decreased sensitivity if you’re testing when you don’t have symptoms, the FDA recommends serial testing – performing one test a day over several days to improve the chance of catching asymptomatic infections. Some at-home test kits come with two tests for this reason. Always follow the instructions in your test kit for best results.

What do I do if I can’t find an N95 mask?

If you can’t find an N95 mask, consider using KN95 or KF94 masks, the Chinese and Korean equivalent standards to our N95s. The key is to shop from reputable retailers to minimize your chances of buying counterfeit masks. KN95 and KF94 masks tend to run in the price range of $2-$3. If you’re buying something for much cheaper, that may be a sign that it’s not a genuine item. Here’s a website with a good summary of the issue.

Editor’s Note: Starting this week, you’ll be able to get free N95 masks from community health centers and retailers such as CVS, Costco, and Walmart. You can find out more about how to get your free masks here.

For people who want to be prepared with supplies on hand should they find themselves getting sick, what are essential items that people should keep stocked during Flurona season?

  1. Masks
  2. Home covid test kits
  3. Thermometer
  4. Blood pressure cuff
  5. Pulse oximeter
  6. Hand sanitizer
  7. Disinfectant sprays and wipes
  8. HEPA filter
  9. Your preferred OTC cold and flu medications (Tylenol, decongestants, sore throat remedies, etc)

For people who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and need to isolate, what are some things that are important to keep in mind?

The goal of isolation is to reduce disease transmission. If you live with others, maintaining separate living spaces, when possible, is preferred. If you must interact with others in your household, keep your interactions brief and wear a well-fitting mask (surgical or higher grade preferred). One thing that people forget is to turn off your central air or HVAC system. Leaving it on could potentially spread the virus throughout the home (unless your system is equipped with a HEPA filter). Placing a HEPA filter inside your isolation space may help reduce virus levels as well.