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I am an emergency physician by training, specializing in point-of-care or bedside diagnosis and therapeutics/interventions. I was in the emergency department throughout the first several waves of COVID, and especially during the first one witnessed struggles to diagnose COVID accurately and rapidly in patients. I was one of many proponents worldwide regarding the use of ultrasound scanning of the lungs which allowed us to diagnose COVID much more reliably than chest X-rays and was even more reliable than many of the COVID tests we had access to initially. Additionally, we could make the diagnosis within 5 minutes and at one point in the first wave it took 9 days for me to get a COVID result back from the lab. This was again a painful realization that accurate and rapid bedside molecular tests were critical to develop. Unfortunately, COVID is here to stay, in one variant form or another. The best way to move forward is for the general public to be educated on COVID safety protocols and recommendations from medical experts. As variants continue to mutate and change, so will the guidelines. Staying abreast of the medical communities' recommendations is the best way to keep yourself and others safe. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Socializing With Other People
Socializing in person is really the main problem, even though otherwise it is quite natural and healthy. Being around other people and in contact with other people creates exposure risk if anyone present is infected with COVID. COVID is transmitted via infected material transferred from one person to another, such as saliva when they speak and sputum from coughing or sneezing. This can occur via the air as tiny particles float and are inhaled or ingested by someone or they can be left on surfaces that are touched by a person. Those surfaces might be a handle, lid, countertop or someone's hand (as well as many other sources). This is a weakness for most people. We touch all the things listed above, and many more, and then touch/rub our eyes, nose and mouth. This results in transmission of the infection. Given that each strain seems to be more easily transmitted/more infectious that the previous one so far, it means you need less and less infected material to transmit infection. The key here is to disinfect hands frequently when out and about. Washing can be hard to accomplish when out so using a hand sanitizer frequently is critical. This has to be combined with not touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Not Using the Right Mask
Not using proper masks and mask technique when around potentially infected people. I rarely see people wearing N95 masks when out, even in airports. When I do, they are often not properly adjusted and ill-fitting. This could allow infectious micro-droplets to get into our airways. Some people even wear the stretchy neck pullovers that were popular for a while. A Duke engineering study early in the pandemic actually showed that neck gaiters helped aerosolize particles so COVID can spread better by floating longer in the air. If you think someone infected might be around you and you are depending on your mask to protect you, the mask has to be an N95 and properly worn.
Forget About Safety Among Friends and Relatives
Many people drop their guard when around friends and relatives. They have been wearing their mask and using hand sanitizer when at a shopping mall, theater or other activity, but then they get together with family or friends, dispense with the mask and hand sanitizer. This is no big deal when COVID numbers are super low, but when there is COVID around this might be the best way to get infected. Recall that those around you may not have any symptoms of COVID, yet still be infectious. Dropping your guard means good exposure to potential infection if someone you are interacting with at a party, dinner or other get-together is infected.
Not Being Vigilant
Making assumptions is a potential bad habit. Such assumptions may include things like assuming a group of people are unlikely to be infected, or a place you are going to is unlikely to have infected people in it. This might work, especially if everyone is doing regular COVID testing, or some other location you feel comfortable with. A common example is assuming you are not going to be exposed to COVID because infections are low in your area, but higher elsewhere in the country. Keep in mind that with lockdowns lifted, people can travel more easily and thus enter your safe low infection area and bring infection from their high COVID location.
Not Using Common Sense
A bad habit that might catch some people is following the latest news and not common sense or medical advice. With the rapid spread of information on social media people, information regarding COVID remedies and advice may not always be accurate. Double check everything you hear because it may not be true, despite best intent. Similarly, don't be fooled into dropping your guard with statements like "COVID is Done!" or similar. If you feel at risk from COVID keep practicing good hand hygiene with hand sanitizing regularly and wear a mask if at risk. In the last couple of weeks, I have heard from several colleagues who contracted COVID in areas where there is almost no COVID around and all infection control measures have been lifted.
Underestimating the Virus
The way to catch COVID will always be through infection transferred from one person or surface to another person. However, another thing we are seeing right now is inaccurate public reporting of positive case numbers. This is due to the expansion of at home testing and positive reports going unreported to public health officials. COVID tests come with information which explain to users how to submit their COVID test results, however many at home tests go unreported and may be leading communities, cities and regions to have a false sense of security, believing cases are lower than what they may actually be. On the flip side, the expansion of at home testing is still a positive thing as it increases likelihood of someone doing a test, offers accessibility and convenience and still can inform someone who may have COVID of the safety measures they should take.
How You Can Protect Yourself Against COVID
Avoid high risk areas such as restaurants where people are not wearing masks or closed gatherings such as bars or parties when infection rates are elevated in your area. Also opt for outdoor seating when able or if hosting a large gathering, consider moving it out outdoors. When there is potential for exposure wear an N95 mask and always disinfect your hands regularly. This will not just prevent COVID but decrease your risk of flu and the common cold.
Why Testing is Important
Testing is critical because so many people show very mild or no symptoms at all with COVID or can be infectious before obvious symptoms even start. Vaccination does not prevent spread of COVID infection as we have seen through repeated waves of COVID in countries with near perfect vaccination rates. Thus, the only way to stop spread is to identify infected individuals and help them avoid infecting others until they are better. This means access to accurate and rapid testing. The problem with some rapid tests, as we have seen the FDA pull multiple ones off the market, is accuracy. What good is a quick result if it misses infection or falsely tells you that there is infection present? The key is rapid molecular testing that is available everywhere. This is the reason Anavasi Diagnostics has developed a rapid molecular test like the big lab PCR testing, but one that runs in a tiny hand size box and returns the result in about 30 minutes or less. Having access to such rapid and accurate testing for as many people as possible is key to stopping the spread of COVID. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Michael Blaivas is a Chief Medical Officer at Anavasi Diagnostics, which is a point of care molecular diagnostics company. Says the doctor: "That basically means we make a tiny (fits in your hand) device using PCR technology (like in the giant hospital basement laboratory machines) to be used in settings such as emergency departments, urgent cares, clinics, doctors' offices, sporting events, airlines, cruise lines and other places where people might need a very accurate and rapid COVID-19 test result."