The still lingering questions about COVID: What Charlotte-area residents need to know

·7 min read
Jeff Siner/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This week, North Carolina reached a grim milestone when the state officially surpassed 20,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

It is a unfortunate reminder of the virus’ continued devastating impact on the state and what it means moving forward as the public attempts to function in its midst and navigate all the uncertainty still surrounding it.

Here, we answer some frequently asked questions on how to stay safe as the ultra-contagious omicron variant continues to spread throughout the state.

What to do if I test positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends isolating for five days if you are asymptomatic or your symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours). The CDC shortened the isolation period from 10 days to five after gathering data that show transmission occurs early in the course of illness.

The isolation period should be followed by a 5-day period of wearing a face covering to minimize the risk of infecting people you encounter.

What should I expect after receiving a positive result?

Though COVID-19 is often compared to flu, the latter can take longer before people show symptoms and become contagious.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Muscle pain or body aches

  • Headache

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Change in or lost of taste or smell

People over the age of 65, those who suffer from chronic medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes are at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from both illnesses. Anyone experiencing trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, or pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds should seek emergency medical care immediately

More than 40% of people who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic, according to a recent peer-reviewed study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Is it safe for kids who aren’t vaccinated to visit grandparents?

If your kids’ grandparents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for at least two weeks, then it is “probably safe” for kids to visit, said Dr. Corinn Cross, a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for children under 5, but the likelihood of a healthy child, passing the virus to an adult is relatively low, Cross said, though the CDC detailed that children can spread the infection to others when they do not have symptoms or have mild symptoms.

However, if your child is showing any symptoms of COVID-19, it’s best to keep them home until they have been symptom-free for a day before visiting family.

Additional precautions, like wearing a mask or maintaining a six-foot distance from loved ones, can be taken to lower the risk of transmission.

Gatherings: How big is too big?

If you want to host a social gathering, the size of the event should be determined based on whether attendees from different households can stay at least six feet apart, according to the CDC.

Other factors can contribute to the likelihood of attendees contracting and spreading COVID-19 are:

  • The number of COVID-19 cases in the community: High levels of COVID-19 in the event location or where attendees are coming from increase the risk of infection and spread of the virus.

  • Exposure during travel: Airports, train stations and other transportation facilities are all places where social distancing may be challenging.

  • Setting of the event: Indoor events, especially in places with poor ventilation, pose more risk than outdoor events.

  • Length of the event: Events that last longer pose more risk of infection than shorter ones.

  • Behavior of attendees during an event: Events where people are not maintaining physical distancing or wearing masks can increase risk of infection.

How soon should I get a COVID-19 test before attending an event?

For events that require a negative COVID-19 test, some venues require results no more than 72 hours prior to the event date. Time frames for accepted tests may vary. You should check the guidelines for your event as protocols are subject to change.

It’s best to get tested one to two days before attending an indoor gathering with others who are not in your household, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Should you ask friends for proof of vaccination?

Vaccinations have become a polarizing issue over the last couple of years, but it is okay to ask your friends and family if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to experts at Johns Hopkins University.

If you ask someone and they don’t wish to answer, you should engage with the person as if they are unvaccinated by taking the proper precautions, like masking and keeping your distance.

A myth about inquiring about vaccination status is that it’s a HIPAA violation. HIPAA restricts doctors and insurance companies from disclosing information about their patients. But people are free to ask about vaccination status if they wish.

Can I access vaccination statuses of others?

Currently there are no mobile apps available in North Carolina where you can view your friends’ vaccination status.

However, if you happen to know where your friends work, some major companies have required all employees to be fully-vaccinated.

Checking social media accounts to see if they have posted about getting the vaccine can also be helpful.

How many months after receiving two doses should I wait before getting a booster?

The CDC recommends getting a booster shot five months after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get the booster after two months, and those who got the Moderna vaccine should wait six months.

How do I find testing online?

There are a number of websites to find a testing center near you, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, or local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

How can I be sure the site is for real and not a fraud?

Fraudulent testing sites are becoming more common, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

There have been reports of sites offering “free tests” only to bill their patients days later, and sites stealing personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card information and other health records, which can be used for identity theft.

Here are a few ways to ensure testing sites are legitimate, according to the FTC:

  • Get a referral: Go somewhere referred by a doctor or health department website. Don’t trust a random testing site you see around town.

  • Check the source: If you hear about a new testing site on social media, check to see if it is listed on your state or local health department’s website.

  • Contact law enforcement: If a legitimate testing site has been set up, police will know about it.

Should I throw away all those cloth masks?

With the omicron variant leading to a spike in COVID-19 cases across North Carolina, some health experts are encouraging people to consider using other types of masks to reduce infection risk.

The face coverings of choice — primarily N95 or KN95 masks — are advertised to provide more protection against the highly contagious variant more so than cloth or surgical masks.

A recent study by the The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that surgical masks are 95% effective at filtering out virus particles, compared to just 37% for cloth masks.

However, another study published in Aerosol and Air Quality Research concluded that layering a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask provides more protection than cloth alone.

Can you be reinfected with COVID?

It’s a common misconception that you can only be infected with COVID-19 once, said Cleveland Clinic pediatric infectious disease expert Frank Esper. He explained that you’re not in the clear just because you’ve already recovered from the virus.

The first COVID-19 infections happened in early 2020, and the immunity from those infections wane over time, Esper said, noting that vaccine immunity also diminishes with time.

Esper said the contagiousness of delta and omicron variants combined with lack personal and community mitigation efforts could also lead to reinfection.

Observer reporter Mary Ramsey contributed to this story.

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