Your nose is stuffy, your head aches, you don’t feel well, but you don’t feel so bad that you think it’s COVID-19 either. Is it wildfire smoke? Is it a cold? Influenza? I mean, you don’t feel that bad and you really need to go to work.
Stay home if you can, says Patrick Luedtke, Lane County’s senior public health officer. And if you want to help reduce your own symptoms and avoid a traffic jam of people needing vaccinations, get your flu vaccine by Halloween. While it may not prevent the flu entirely, Luedtke says it reduces the severity and has a 60 to 70 percent reduction rate when it comes to keeping you out of the hospital, where beds and respirators could be needed by COVID-19 patients.
Luedtke says a COVID-19 vaccine could be available in limited quantities for people such as first responders in November or December, so a flu shot now means fewer people lining up for multiple vaccinations later.
For those concerned about the smoke engulfing the Willamette Valley, Luedtke says studies theoretically show that poor air quality could increase the risk when it comes to respiratory illness, but the smoke would have to stick around for more than two days. He cautions that while an N95 mask can be effective against inhaling the small particulate matter, it’s only effective when properly fitted.
Luedtke says the county plans to update its usual flu versus cold information guide, to a flu versus cold versus coronavirus guide, but he says the advice doctors have been giving for years has not changed: If you feel sick, and you can stay home, stay home. Some workplaces, he says, have found ways to let people keep working through the now-common work from home plan, but also through finding ways to let workers continue their jobs through isolation in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Available data indicate that persons with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset.” So a person with mild symptoms — those of us going “I don’t feel that sick” — should quarantine or self-isolate for at least 10 days after they notice possible, even mild, signs of COVID-19.
Jason Davis, Lane County Health and Human Services public information officer, says the game changer for COVID-19 testing will be when saliva testing becomes available, possibly this fall. Right now rapid-tests can have false negative or a false positive. Saliva testing, which is undergoing FDA approval, has a capacity upwards of 4,000 tests a day, he says.
With current testing — rapid tests and PCR tests, aka the dreaded nasal swab — Davis points out that some people don’t have insurance, or the ability to get to a test, and others can’t get out of work. There are private nonprofits and public health events that offer tests, but they are only effective if people can get there.
Davis says one area of COVID-concern is Lane County’s Latinx population, which makes up 9 percent of the county’s population but 20 to 30 percent of its cases. He says the county is entering partnerships with entities like the NAACP and various neighborhood groups to do community education.
The more people that get tested and the more often, the better, Davis says, but it’s not good use of current resources to do asymptomatic mass testing right now, although that would be the way for the best public health work to happen. He says, “By and large, that’s how community transmission happens — not people saying, ‘Oh I am sick, and I am going to go out and get other people sick,’” but because “they just feel fine and are sick and shed enough virus to get others sick.”
Luedtke and Davis are both clear: If you think you have symptoms, and you are able to stay home and isolate, even for mild symptoms, do it.