For me, like many New Yorkers, Santa came early this year — not with coal, but the modern-day equivalent: three positive COVID-19 tests.
On the day I tested positive, December 19, New York was in the midst of experiencing a record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases, which the CDC estimated was due to Omicron. Although I had no way to be sure I contracted Omicron and not a breakthrough case from a different variant, I suspected it was to blame.
The Omicron variant, which experts first identified in South Africa and Botswana, has a unique recipe of mutations that allow it to easily and quickly infect people. This applies even to those who are fully vaccinated, like myself. And it’s been spreading like crazy: Just before Christmas, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases had increased by 25 percent in the US.
After receiving my bad news, I canceled my trip to visit family in Chicago, grabbed some tissues and buckled up. Despite anecdotal encouragement on the web, my symptoms weren’t as “mild” as I had hoped. They started with congestion and a sore throat, morphed into a fever, cough, pounding headache and loss of taste and smell. However, it did pass pretty quickly; I began feeling better around day five.
During my bout of sickness, I found myself asking questions that had never once crossed my mind when I was well: Would I have a hard time hitting the gym again after I recovered? How could I make sure I didn’t spread the virus to my roommate in our small Brooklyn apartment?
As more and more people contract Covid-19 breakthrough infections daily, I sorted out fact from fiction and compiled five solid pieces of advice for anyone getting better at home.
Know your resources.
New York City has a great system set up for those who test positive for COVID-19. For instance, in NYC, if you test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus, you qualify for a free 10-day hotel stay to safely isolate from loved ones. Contact tracers will also send you a kit complete with medical-grade masks, a pulse oximeter, a thermometer and hand sanitizer.
Sounds great, right? If you’re based somewhere else, don’t fret. FEMA has a comprehensive list of different resources you can find around the country. You can also visit your state health department for more information using this link.
President Biden also recently announced that the government would be sending out 500 million at-home testing kits to the public in coming weeks. Stay tuned for more info on that.
You don’t need to sleep on your stomach.
So far, the Omicron variant has shown to produce milder infections in people who’ve been vaccinated and boosted. Some very preliminary evidence suggests it might not burrow as deep in the lungs as other infections.
Per a new, extensive UK report, the risk of being hospitalized for a case of Omicron was 65 percent lower for those who had gotten two vaccine doses, compared to unvaccinated people. Judith O’Donnell, the chief of infectious disease at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It should not be taken as ‘it’s just a cold’ for everyone, because that’s not the case at all.”
As someone who’s covered most of the pandemic as a journalist, I was terrified of contracting COVID-19-induced pneumonia. Despite having no risk factors and being fully vaccinated, I had heard horror stories. So I did some research.
I came across some posts circulating online encouraging COVID-19 patients to sleep on their stomachs and move around at night to open up their lungs and avoid pneumonia. But a critical care doctor and pulmonologist debunks this advice. “We know that sleeping on your stomach can improve your oxygenation if you need supplemental oxygen in the hospital,” Dr. Brian Boer told Nebraska Medicine. “If you don’t have severe COVID-19, lying on your stomach or side is not going to affect your disease.”
Fluids are your friend.
Some advice on the internet says that drinking water every 15 minutes can flush COVID-19 out of your system. This is false.
While supplements like Vitamin C and Vitamin D may boost your immune system, there’s no evidence of any magical antiviral supplement. However, if you’re fighting off any illness, whether that’s the common cold or COVID-19, staying hydrated can aid your recovery process. If you have a fever, like I did, your risk of dehydration increases, which can make you sicker and in extreme cases lead to hospitalization. Experts recommend consuming water over other drinks, and some research suggests hot drinks can help with a wider range of symptoms than room-temp ones. (I personally drank a ton of chai!)
Worried you’re not getting enough fluids? Nephrologist Dr. Mitchell Rosner recommends patients listen to their bodies. “It sounds oversimplistic, but that’s where your thirst comes in,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s individual, it regulates your own body, and it’s going to be different for everybody.”
You can prevent transmission.
If there’s someone infected in your home, experts recommend opening windows as much as you can and wearing KN95 masks to avoid transmission. (It seems that cloth and surgical masks don’t provide the coverage you’d want against Omicron.) Although the risk of surface transmission is low, research shows that households that focused on disinfecting surfaces after a person got sick still had lower transmission rates. So pull out that hand sanitizer and those wipes!
To prevent transmission outside of the home, the CDC has changed guidance on how long you should isolate. For people who test positive for COVID-19, it just cut the quarantine time down from 10 to five days — as long as you no longer have symptoms on that fifth day. Why? They cited evidence that the virus is most contagious in two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
We’re not sure yet if Omicron will lead to “long COVID.”
As a healthy, fit millennial woman, as I fought off the virus, I became worried about long COVID. The WHO describes it as symptoms that can pop up post-COVID that can’t be explained by an alternative diagnosis. Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction.
The stats don’t look great: Researchers suspect more than half of COVID-19 survivors experience lingering symptoms up to six months after recovery, no matter the severity of their original infection. And per some especially fresh research, the coronavirus can potentially last in the body for up to eight months.
Although there needs to be more research conducted on long COVID, and we aren’t exactly sure how Omicron will play into this, it’s worth knowing about. If you suspect you’ve developed long COVID symptoms, seek clinical care.