PINEHURST, N.C. – The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has strained hospitals and health systems, and it’s also led to plenty of questions about what’s next for the pandemic.
Dr. Gretchen Arnoczy, an infectious diseases physician at FirstHealth of the Carolinas, spoke with Star 102.5 FM about the state of things, how people can stay safe and what’s next. Here’s part of that interview.
Question: What should people be doing right now to protect themselves from COVID-19? What is the current state of the pandemic?
Dr. Arnoczy: One of the hard things about COVID-19 is that it is constantly changing, so you’re right, people do hear a lot of mixed messages. They remember things they were told a few months ago, which may or may not be current, so it’s hard to know. Right now, the Omicron variant, which first emerged in South Africa late last year, is really going through our country and community. It’s causing a massive surge in cases. We are seeing lots of people testing positive, more people in the hospital with COVID. Omicron is more contagious than the previous variants, and so it’s causing a lot of havoc on our community and health care system. One of the issues we are running into is there is such a demand for testing. Lots of people are testing positive and then exposing other people. There is a big demand for testing, but the FirstHealth system is becoming overwhelmed by the number of tests being done.
Question: When is the best time to get a test and who should be getting those tests?
Dr. Arnoczy: The people who need to be getting a test are people who have symptoms, so if you have symptoms of COVID like cough, sore throat or headache, we do recommend people get tested, and especially people who are higher risk for more severe disease. This is people who are unvaccinated, people who are older or who have co-morbidities. If we diagnose early, there are now new treatments that are available to offer to people that can reduce the risk of ending up in the hospital. One of the strains we’re seeing at our testing centers is lots of people who don’t have any symptoms coming in to get tested. When we are in a period of surge and having trouble with testing capacity, we don’t recommend asymptomatic people being tested, outside of high-risk exposures.
Question: What should people know about rapid COVID tests?
Dr. Arnoczy: The other resource that we want people to use is those rapid at-home tests. They are pretty reliable when it comes to positive testing. If you test positive at home, you can trust it. You don’t need to come in to have that confirmed from a medical standpoint. We are recommending that people utilize these other resources for testing. We also aren’t recommending people get follow-up testing for COVID. We don’t recommend that because PCR tests can be positive for a long time.
Question: Where do people get at-home tests?
Dr. Arnoczy: Many local pharmacies sell these tests, but because of the surge a lot of the local pharmacies are out. There is a new program where people can get the home tests delivered to their house. I would also encourage people to use that resource as well.
Question: Emergency rooms and doctor’s offices are very busy – when should you see your primary care physician or other medical professional when it comes to COVID?
Dr. Arnoczy: For mild symptoms in a person who is otherwise healthy, a home test is fine. They don’t need to go to our Convenient Care clinics, and especially not our emergency rooms. We should try to prioritize those for true emergencies. If you’re having trouble breathing, go to the emergency room. If you have symptoms and it is impacting your life, go to our Convenient Care clinics.
Bottom line, do what you can to try to avoid getting COVID. With these surges and with this massive number of infections happening, some people think ‘Oh, I might as well go ahead and get it. We’re all going to get it.’ I would say no. There are people who are going to come out of this and not have COVID, and if you can be one of those people it’s better to be one of those people.
For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, booster shots and testing, visit FirstHealth's resources page.