Sunday, January 23, 2022

I came in contact with COVID. Here’s what I learned to do next.

scheduled tribe. Petersburg – Last week I was exposed to COVID-19.

A group of my friends came over for dinner before everyone went on vacation. Everyone was fully vaccinated and symptom-free, so we thought we were in the clear.

The next morning, a guest tested positive.

As the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads across the state, it is a situation that Floridians will have to face during the holiday season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an exposure as being within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

So sitting around an infected dinner guest for hours, as I did, definitely counts as an exposure.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid the risk and what you can do if you have been exposed.

related: Why won’t Florida, CDC release successful state COVID data?

be careful

According to public health experts, the good news is that you can still see friends and family this holiday season while reducing your risk of exposure. Some precautions can be inconvenient, but knowing you have been exposed is far less than the number of steps you can take.

I took some steps to avoid risk, but the experts I spoke to said I could have done better. At dinner everyone was fully vaccinated and symptom free, and we left the windows open to increase airflow inside the house. I recently got my booster shot, which experts say offers the best protection against Omicron.

But staying indoors was a problem, said Dr. Nishant Anand, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Becare Health System.

“If you think of it on a sliding scale, the riskiest thing is to stay indoors without a mask,” he said. “It helps whenever the windows are open and there’s a fan to blow the air out.”

He added: “Especially as the weather is nice, I think it’s a better idea for people to gather outside whenever they can.”

Our dinner was on Sunday, December 19th. A guest, who was out of town, tested negative for coronavirus the day before our dinner. But he was the one who turned positive in less than 48 hours.

related: Omicron could drive 40,000 COVID cases a day in Florida, UF model shows

Going from negative to completely symptomatic in just two days seemed impossible with previous variants, but it’s going to be a regular occurrence with Omicron, said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at New York University School of Medicine.

“The original variants had an incubation period of something like four to five days,” Gounder said. “With Omicron it’s two to three days.”

This means people have to get tested more often to catch the infection, she said. “With Omicron, you’re probably getting tested at least daily, especially in high-risk settings.”

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If you plan to be in close contact with people outside your home, experts suggest taking a rapid antigen test every morning.

Despite all those precautions, it is inevitable that Floridians will come into contact with anyone who contracts COVID-19. Here’s what experts say you should do next:

contact tracing

“The first thing, obviously, is contact tracing,” said University of South Florida immunologist Michael Teng. “People need to know they have been exposed so they can get tested and start monitoring for symptoms.”

This means you have to contact people with whom you were in close contact and tell them you were exposed to COVID-19, whether you are experiencing symptoms and when you were tested.

Don’t rely on the contact tracing of the government. Tampa Bay Times reported in October on the problems with the state’s contact tracing program, which has spent millions calling infected people and alerting those they had been in contact with.

Teng suggests checking temperature regularly and using a fingertip oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation. Teng said changes in temperature or oxygen saturation can often indicate infection even before you see the results of an at-home antigen test.

Letting others know they’ve been exposed is especially important at this time of year, when more people will be traveling to visit friends and family. “This type is incredibly easy to spread,” said the immunologist, “so you need to know if you are at risk of infection.”

related: Florida’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing Program Doesn’t Have Much ‘Tracing’

wash hands, sanitize surfaces

If you have an infected person in your home, Anand said, wiping down surfaces with an antiviral cleaning agent is essential. And you need to go back to washing hands frequently, if you’re sloppy on that.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, household products like Lysol, Clorox, and a diluted solution of bleach work well to kill any virus particles.

“We know that most infections come from airborne particles,” Teng said. “The best way to avoid contact with the virus (particles) that you pick up from surfaces … is to still wash your hands and avoid touching your face.”

related: Are you ‘fully vaccinated’ against COVID? Omicron can change that.

isolate and mask

Once you are exposed, experts said, the most important thing is to make sure you don’t spread the virus to others.

The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals should be isolated for 10 days after exposure, but that time period may soon shorten. After that period of isolation, if you are symptom-free and test negative, you should be in the clear.

During isolation, assume that you are infected and can spread the virus to others. “It takes time for symptoms and tests to emerge as positive,” Gounder said. But you can still spread the virus to others before you feel sick or test positive.

“If you need to go out and get food or go to the drugstore, that’s fine,” she said. “But keep it for essential activities, not going to the bar on Fridays with your friends.”

And when you go out, wearing a mask is essential to curb the possibility that you can spread the virus to others. “You have to wear a high-end mask, at least a surgical mask,” Gounder said. N95 or KN95 type masks are the gold standard, especially for Omicron, because “fabric masks just don’t cut it,” she said.

related: Biden promises 500 million free COVID tests to counter Omicron

Don’t let the prospect of a positive result deter you from taking the test. Even the best COVID tests have some degree of uncertainty, “but not testing means your level of uncertainty is 100 percent,” Teng said.

Don’t hesitate to tell others if you test positive, and remember to be kind to anyone who tells you they may have been exposed. If someone tests positive and tells you, Teng said, it means they care about you.

“It should be your takeaway, not that they brought COVID into your house,” he said. “They didn’t know they were infected and now they do. By telling you, they are trying to protect you.”

Editor’s note: Ian Hodgson covers the COVID-19 pandemic for the Times. His last negative antigen test was on December 23 and he is awaiting the results of a PCR test. He remains symptom free.

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for more information

The Florida Department of Health has tips for dealing with risk: floridahealthcovid19.gov/exposure/

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for staying safe during the holidays: bit.ly/3FsQa24

Frequently asked COVID-19 questions by the Food and Drug Administration: bit.ly/3JgX1Os

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how to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and older and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow booking of appointments online. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: To find vaccination sites in your zip code, visit vaccines.gov.

More Help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Support Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Support is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email [email protected]

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Children and Vaccines: Have questions about getting your child vaccinated? Here are some answers.

Booster Shots: Confused about which COVID booster to take? This guide will help.

Booster Question: Are there any side effects? Why do I need this? Here are the answers to your questions.

Protecting Seniors: Here’s how senior citizens can stay safe from the virus.

covid and flu: Get the flu shot and the COVID vaccine to avoid a ‘twindemic’.

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A tribute to the Floridians taken over by the coronavirus: They were parents and retirees, police officers and doctors, imperfect but deeply loved.

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