coronavirus illinois

With COVID cases rising, here are the guidelines to follow if you test positive

Already, the rise in both cases and hospitalizations has led to changes in protocols for some as new strains continue their spread

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COVID is rising in many locations, including Illinois, right now, so what should you do if you test positive?

Already, the rise in both cases and hospitalizations has led to changes in protocols for some as new strains continue their spread.

Multiple mutations of the omicron COVID-19 variant are making their way through the United States. The Illinois Department of Public Health warned late last month that COVID cases are on the rise in the state.

Here's what to know if you think you have COVID or you have tested positive for the virus:

What are the current COVID protocols?

The guidelines for isolating have not changed since May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are the protocols listed by the agency:

Regardless of vaccination status, you should isolate from others when you have COVID-19, the CDC reports.

You should also isolate if you are sick and suspect that you have COVID-19 but do not yet have test results. If your results are negative, you can end that isolation.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should stay home for at least five days and isolate from others in your home. The CDC notes that people are "likely most infectious during these first five days."

When you have COVID-19, isolation is counted in days, as follows:

If you had no symptoms:

  • Day 0 is the day you were tested (not the day you received your positive test result)
  • Day 1 is the first full day following the day you were tested
  • If you develop symptoms within 10 days of when you were tested, the clock restarts at day 0 on the day of symptom onset

If you had symptoms:

  • Day 0 of isolation is the day of symptom onset, regardless of when you tested positive
  • Day 1 is the first full day after the day your symptoms started

Other guidance for those who test positive:

  • Wear a high-quality mask if you must be around others at home and in public.
  • Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask.
  • Stay home and separate from others as much as possible.
  • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.
  • Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (like trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately.

If you had no symptoms, you can end your isolation after day five, but for those who experience symptoms, that line might be different, the CDC notes.

Those who have mild symptoms can end isolation after day five if they are fever-free for 24 hours, without using fever-reducing medication, but those with more moderate or severe illnesses will need to wait until day 10.

Those who have mild symptoms that are not improving should also wait until those symptoms are improving and they are fever-free for 24 hours.

Those with more severe illness may also want to consult with their doctor before ending isolation and could need a viral test to end their isolation period.

Despite ending isolation, those who test positive should continue to avoid people and mask through at least day 11, according to the CDC guidelines.

What to know about testing?

Those who have symptoms are urged to take a COVID test as soon as possible, though officials continue to caution that a negative at-home test may not be as reliable as a positive one.

"If your antigen test is negative, take another antigen test after 48 hours or take a PCR test as soon as you can," the CDC states.

Those who don't have symptoms but may have been exposed should wait five days after exposure to take a test, according to the CDC guidance.

While many Americans may have unused tests in their homes, it's important to check the expiration dates, experts say.

The Food and Drug Administration has extended the expiration dates of many popular at-home test products, which means some such kits may still be safe to use, CNBC reports. You can check expiration dates for each brand using a page on the FDA's website.

Public health experts have continued to urge people to test, particularly as numbers rise.

But beyond the at-home test kits, lab PCR tests have become more challenging to access - and in some cases more expensive - since the national public health emergency ended in May.

Antigen and PCR testing is still available at major pharmacies, like Walgreens, for example, but out of pocket costs could apply, depending on your insurance provider.

Which COVID variant is circulating right now?

EG.5 remains the predominant strain of COVID spreading in the U.S., but another new variant is rising in some locations and leading to new concerns -- the BA.2.86, which has been nicknamed "Pirola."

A newly designed version of Omicron, BA.2.86 has more than 30 mutations to its spike protein, a higher number compared to previously detected Omicron subvariants, according to Yale Medicine. While cases have surfaced in the U.S. and five other countries, they don't appear to be related, which is especially concerning for health officials.

Since "Pirola" has so many mutations, medical experts question if it has the potential to bypass immune defenses both from natural infection and prior vaccination, said Dr. Scott Roberts, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist.

"The biggest concern has been the number of mutation differences with BA.2.86," he said. "When we went from XBB.1.5 to EG.5, that was maybe one or two mutations, and they were expected. With every respiratory virus, as it spreads from person to person, it evolves gradually over time. But these massive shifts, which we also saw from Delta to Omicron, are worrisome.”

In a risk assessment dated Aug. 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was no evidence that the variant was causing more severe illness, but noted that could potentially change over time. BA.2.86 has even been detected in wastewater, the assessment added. While the CDC didn't specify where a specimen that tested positive was collected, authorities in New York City confirmed BA.2.86 was detected in its wastewater.

In Chicago, that isn't the case, however. The Chicago Department of Public Health said on Wednesday that the variant hadn't been found in its wastewater.

What are the symptoms associated with the latest COVID variants?

When it comes to symptoms, much remains unknown, health officials asserted.

Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University, told that there was no data on symptoms associated with BA.2.86 infections because the case numbers are just too small.

EG.5, meanwhile, also known as “Eris,” is likely more transmissible than the previously-dominant XBB.1.16 variant, according to experts at Yale Medicine. According to Yale officials, EG.5 has a spike protein mutation that allows it to evade some immunity acquired from infection or vaccination, but officials do not believe it causes more-severe illness in most cases.

It typically causes symptoms in a patient’s upper-respiratory tract, including runny nose, sore throat, and other cold-like symptoms. Fever can occur, as can changes in taste and smell.

In patients with compromised immune systems, or those 65 and older, the virus can still cause issues in lower parts of the respiratory tract, which can lead more severe illness.

If you do suspect you've contracted COVID, here are some symptoms you might experience:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Altered sense of smell

What can do you to treat your symptoms?

As is the case with other strains, existing tests and medications used to treat COVID-19 "appear to be effective" with treating newer strains, according to the CDC.

What about the new fall booster shots?

A new booster shot currently being formulated by Moderna, Pfizer and Novovax will specifically target the XBB.1.5 subvariant, and is expected to boost immunity to the now-dominant EG.5 as well, according to officials.

That new booster should be available in the coming weeks, according to experts.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to greenlight updated versions of the COVID-19 booster as early as Friday, according to four people familiar with the agency’s plans.

Though the particular strain targeted by the new formulas is no longer dominant, the boosters should still provide protection against current circulating subvariants, which are closely related, the drugmakers and experts say.

The Friday timeline for authorization is not firm and could slide into early next week, two of the sources said.

Should you wear a mask now?

Already, some U.S. schools and businesses have started bringing back mask mandates.

But in a statement to NBC Chicago, the CDC said its "advice for individual and community actions around COVID-19 is tied to hospital admission levels, which are currently low for more than 97 percent of the country."

The Illinois Department of Public Health has also not indicated the potential for returns of masking guidance from a state level.

Yet, "masks still provide good protection," Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, told CNBC. "People at substantial risk need to be thinking about using masks again, and it's not a terrible decision for anyone who wants to reduce their risk."

Experts say masking will likely be done more on a voluntary basis going forward, based on an individual's personal health or the activities they are doing.

"For people who have underlying health conditions that would put them at higher risk if they got COVID, or for people who are in sort of older age brackets ... those are individuals that really might want to consider beginning to wear masks, and particularly in crowded settings, because COVID seems to be on the rise, and these are people that if they did get COVID, they, you know, might be more likely to have a severe case," Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, told NBC Chicago.

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