By Brent Annear
As the massive spike of COVID-19 cases continues, the degree of infectiousness and lack of the best and most available treatment worries Texas Medical Association leaders about what the next few weeks will bring. They say important medical advice bears repeating with patients
The omicron variant’s illness has been described by some people as “less severe,” but physicians urge their colleagues to help patients keep their guard up. In addition to making people sick enough to miss several days of work and school, the virus remains a serious threat to people at high risk for severe illness. Some physician practices have had to close due to COVID-19-related staff shortages or have gone to 100% telehealth visits.
“This illness may seem mild to some, but right now we don’t have enough effective treatment if too many high-risk patients get sick all at the same time,” said John Carlo, MD, a TMA COVID-19 Task Force member.
So far, only a single monoclonal antibody treatment (sotrovimab) is effective against the omicron variant. Supplies are extremely limited.
“On top of this, the omicron variant is incredibly infectious, even more so than previous variants,” Dr. Carlo added.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported more than half a million cases since Jan. 1.
“The good news is we know how to protect ourselves,” Dr. Carlo said. “Vaccination with a booster, diligent and effective mask-wearing, and avoiding poorly ventilated indoor settings are effective.”
Physicians also worry about Texas hospital beds filling up too quickly, as area hospitals already face staffing shortages due to sick workers. “We want to make sure we have the space for every patient who needs care,” Dr. Carlo said.
TMA’s COVID-19 Task Force recommends reiterating to patients the following protective measures:
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19: Get the booster shot as soon as eligible, too.
- If you must leave your home: Physically distance yourself, wash your hands frequently, and wear your mask anytime you need to be near someone when outside your home. Wear the best mask you can get: N95 masks are best, followed by KN95 masks, then surgical masks, then multi-ply cloth masks that fit snugly around your face. Wear masks if you can’t socially distance, even if outside, and even if everyone attending is vaccinated and boosted.
- If you must gather with others from outside your home: Choose an outdoor or well-ventilated space.
- If exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 (you were within 6 feet of him or her for at least 15 minutes in 24 hours): Quarantine away from others for at least five days and get tested after five days even if you do not develop symptoms.
- Watch for symptoms. If you have no symptoms after five days, wear a well-fitted mask for the next five days anytime you’re near anyone and avoid being around people who are at high risk.
- If fully vaccinated or you have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 90 days, it is not necessary to quarantine, but you still should wear a well-fitted mask when around others for 10 days and get tested after five days even if symptoms do not develop.
- If you test positive for COVID-19 or have mild symptoms, regardless of vaccination status: Isolate for at least five days and until you are fever-free and your symptoms improve (stay away from other people, including people in your own household). (This applies to mild-symptom or zero-symptom cases.) After five days’ isolation, wear a well-fitted mask for five more days whenever you’re around others, avoid travel, and avoid being around those who are at high risk.
- If you have severe symptoms: Isolate for at least 10 days and consult your doctor before ending your isolation. If you develop any serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing, seek emergency medical care immediately.
“This current wave is spreading faster than ever before, and the only way to slow this down is for everyone – not just some people, but everyone – to be vigilant,” said Dr. Carlo.