COVID Sense Makes Common Sense

A few weeks ago, on a morning warm and sunny and not yet impacted by the smoky wrath of the Canadian wildfires, I sat on our outside steps, enjoying the beautiful breeze, when out of the blue my left ear suddenly began to ache.
It wasn’t a minor ache — this had attitude, and unlike previous aches, was in for the duration. By evening the pain had intensified to the point where it had made itself known and was not going to let me forget it.
Eventually I developed an aggressive tickle cough, which led to a sore throat, and ultimately fatigue, as the combination of these symptoms does not make for a restful night’s sleep.
Not that long ago, I would have immediately been concerned that a respiratory, nasal, or allergic ailment was COVID. Now, however, I credited my symptoms to an allergic reaction to air conditioning or wind on my head or throat. Sinus infections, colds, allergies and especially the flu share many symptoms with COVID, and although the COVID emergency is over (and therefore many want to believe that COVID no longer exists), it did not discourage me from testing for COVID. It just wasn’t the first cause I considered responsible for my pain.
Sinus and then allergy medications helped but the condition worsened, and that’s when I “took the test” (testing negative) before going out in public for a medical opinion. My condition was diagnosed as a sinus inflammation/allergy event.
Within a week my husband also developed an “event” — a chronic dry cough that interfered with sleep, a sore throat, difficulty speaking, nasal congestion, and loss of taste and smell — symptoms which, in the early days of the pandemic, would have pointed to COVID infection. He, too, tested negative for COVID, two consecutive days when symptoms began, then a few days later. Whereas I was not contagious, he was, being diagnosed with a severe cold.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some or all of these symptoms apply to sinusitis, allergies, a cold, the flu, and COVID.
 Take Sinusitis. Symptoms can include headache and loss of smell but are generally accompanied by congestion, nasal drip, and facial pressure.
Both allergies and the common cold can cause fatigue, weakness, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and sore throat. Whereas allergies are not contagious, cold viruses are. A cold can be contagious for up to two days before the symptoms start and as long as symptoms last — up to two weeks.
COVID and the flu are both contagious respiratory diseases caused by different viruses. You cannot tell the difference between the two because the illnesses have some of the same symptoms: fever or feeling feverish, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue or tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headache. Not everyone who has COVID has all the symptoms, and fever does not always accompany the flu.
And this is where common sense comes into play. Whether or not you are over COVID and want to believe COVID is over, it is still among us. That doesn’t mean that we have to live in the bubble of three years ago; it just means we need to be conscious of our own responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe.
So here goes. Safety lessons learned during the early days of COVID still make sense — common sense.
If you feel “off” — a little phlegmy, scratchy, coughing, achy, sneezy, tired, nauseated, or just plain out of it, if your sniffer and taster aren’t what they should be, and even if you are quite sure the cause is sinusitis or seasonal allergies, take a COVID test. (COVID tests are available free from River Valley Health and Dental, the PA Dept of Health and, until supplies run out, at pharmacies.) Take a test when symptoms first appear. If you test negative, take another two days later. If you test positive, contact your health care professional.
If it is determined that you have a contagious condition such as a cold or flu, stay home, and if you must go out around people, wear a mask (N-95 or similar.) If it is COVID, isolate until you test negative twice, at least 48 hours apart.
If you have been exposed to someone who has COVID, wear a mask when you are around people, until five days after the exposure and you test negative.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer.
 Immunity fades over time. Keep up to date with the COVID booster. If you are over age 65, or have immune problems regardless of age, and it has been four months since your last booster, it is time for another. Visit to find a convenient location.

Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!
Published: 6/24/23

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