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Feeling COVID, but only mild symptoms? Experts say don't bypass the doctor

CDC Image Library / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Despite living in a COVID world for nearly two years, the changing and sometimes conflicting information still leave many asking questions about what to do if one catches and becomes ill with the virus. The most recent developments include the CDC changing its guidelines on isolation and quarantine, and the arrival of the more transmissible Omicron variant. WBFO checked in with local health experts to get some updates and reminders of best practices if one tests positive.

Since the earliest weeks of the COVID pandemic, social media platforms have been rife with contradicting positions on everything from masks to treatments. Most platforms have since clamped down, with fact-checking and the removal of many sources pumping out misinformation. But even now someone who may be catching COVID for the first time might still be hearing mixed messages.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but the obvious first step if one tests positive or begins feeling COVID symptoms is to call one’s doctor, even if the symptoms are mild at worst.

“Therefore if, at some point, you might need a higher level of care, they're in the loop. And at that point, you also want to be assessed if you're at higher risk for developing more severe disease, whether you're eligible for either monoclonal antibody treatment, or the newly improved antiviral medications that could decrease the likelihood, if you're at higher risk that severe disease, that hospitalization and bad outcomes would develop,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Russo, who also serves the VA Hospital in Buffalo, says it’s OK to use Tylenol or other pain and fever relievers to lessen the feel of the symptoms, but don’t rely on that alone. According to the doctor, in some cases symptoms may remain mild at the start but then worsen five to seven days into an illness.

“It's important for people to realize we now have two medications that can be taken in pill form that can decrease the likelihood of developing severe disease, hospitalization and death and high risk individuals,” he said. “However, it's critical that these medications are taken early if you're eligible. So please, if you test positive, reach out to your health care provider as soon as possible to determine if these treatments would be beneficial for you.”

The Centers for Disease Control, earlier this week, updated isolation and quarantine guidelines, lowering the period in most cases from ten days to five. If after five days one’s symptoms are gone, one need not isolate any longer but is urged to wear a mask for the next five days as a precaution. If you’re vaccinated and in close contact with someone who tested positive, you need not quarantine. Unvaccinated people still need to, according to the CDC, and get tested at day five.

Dr. Nancy Nielsen, clinical professor at UB Jacobs, says the CDC’s changes are scientific in part, as they learn more about Omicron and its shorter incubation period. But there are other reasons as well.

“To be honest, the pragmatic reason is, we saw what happened over the holidays with the airlines having to stop. You know, we've seen sporting events that had to be canceled. We saw locally, we saw Hamilton had to cancel three performances. We just can't keep people out 10 days unless it's really necessary. And it seems not to be necessary, as long as people are careful,” Nielsen said.

In Erie County, Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says her department continues to monitor guidance changes at the state and federal levels, especially as officials continue to work toward allowing children back into their schools when the holiday break ends. And she continues to push for vaccinations, and boosters.

“Omicron is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Burstein declared at the county’s weekly COVID briefing Tuesday afternoon. “Those are the people that are winding up with COVID 19 infection in the hospital and unfortunately even dying, so we really need to make sure of that, since Omicron is so transmissible, that we make sure that everybody is fully vaccinated and boosted, so when you do become ill - and many people will become ill as a result of the Omicron, even though they may take all the preventive measures possible - they still have to get fully vaccinated so they won't become ill.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.