To Test Or Not To Test – That Is The Question

My brother recently flew in from Florida to visit the family. During the flight he wore a mask, not only to protect himself from COVID but also from airborne allergens.

When he arrived here in “sinus valley” he believed his slight congestion was allergy and sinus related. As the day moved on his congestion became worse and he felt tired, which he attributed to having been up since four that morning.

So before we headed out for a long awaited, highly anticipated outing, we decided it was “best to test” to be sure COVID was not the cause. Although he felt he was ok — no fever, no loss of taste or smell, no cough — when we explained that symptoms of the newer variants often mimicked those of allergy and sinus, — he agreed to be tested.

This was not an easy decision.
   
If he tested positive, he would spend most of his vacation in quarantine. We would have to isolate, having been exposed to him, and all travel during his stay cancelled. As selfish as it seems, part of us wanted to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything was ok.
   
But the better parts of us won. Allowing a COVID infected household to go out and potentially spread the virus to family, friends and communities throughout the

Northeast, to risk the health of countless people, especially the lives of the vulnerable, was far worse.
   
And so we tested, holding a collective breath while waiting the result, and releasing a collective sigh when the result was negative.
   
Two days later I developed similar symptoms and tested twice, on different days, with both test results negative.
   
The moral of the story is this: the symptoms of today’s COVID variants often differ from those of the original virus. Any symptoms typical of allergies, sore throat or sinus conditions could be COVID, although symptoms common with the Delta variant can occur. As seasons change and weather flips from humidity and rain to hot and dry, it is easy to believe these conditions are the cause of our respiratory discomfort.
   
We may also want to believe COVID is on its way out. Unfortunately, that is not the case as newer, more aggressive variants are surfacing. Cases of the infection going down were reported, but often these numbers did not include the home tests that were positive. If a person does not report the test results to their family healthcare provider, the case will not be counted.
   
Home testing is an important step in preventing the spread of COVID. So whether you have symptoms that may be similar to other conditions, or you have been exposed to someone infected and you do or do not have symptoms, test. It’s easy but does take about 15 uninterrupted minutes.

I have to admit, when I first pulled out the test instructions I was overwhelmed. So much copy!
But the steps were easy and the illustrations clear, and using a timer kept us on track.

I don’t know which was worse, waiting for the test results or trying not to sneeze when I swabbed my nostrils.
   
While home testing is a significant COVID anti-spread tool, it is critical that the test be done at the appropriate time for specific circumstances. The CDC advises that you test immediately if you have COVID symptoms, and if you are exposed to someone with COVID to test yourself at least five days after you were exposed.
   
Test positive? Isolate for at least five days. Test negative? If you were exposed, have symptoms, or are not up to date on vaccines, quarantine for five days.
   
The CDC also advises you test yourself before going to an indoor event or gathering to protect people who are vulnerable, such as older adults, those who are immunocompromised or at risk of severe disease, or those who are not up to date on their COVID vaccines and boosters.
   
Some additional steps to consider if you are exposed but do not have symptoms: test daily before you go out and wear a mask to protect others.
   
If you have symptoms and test yourself and the test is negative, test again the next day. The early reading may be a false negative even if you are infected, as there may not be enough virus to register a positive result. Consider yourself as having COVID until you can do the second/additional tests.
   
Paxlovid, a pill that destroys the COVID virus and was until recently only available through your healthcare provider, can now also be prescribed by licensed pharmacists.
The medication is only available to people who have symptoms and test positive.
   
Protect the vulnerable — take the test and stop the spread.

Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.
Published: 7/16/22

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