Sunday, May 7, 2023

COVID paranoia.

It's been a long few weeks, but I've finally beaten this thing.

Lynne Cantwell | May 6, 2023

As I mentioned last week, I came home from my European vacation with COVID-19. The truth can now be told, I guess: I came down with it while we were still in Amsterdam, tested positive there, and got on my scheduled flight home anyway. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- also known as the CDC -- would have told me not to travel, but the plane left from the Netherlands, where COVID was declared endemic and all travel restrictions were lifted in March. Not that I knew that at the time, but that's my story now.

And anyway, the US is going to lift the COVID emergency this week. It'll be a brave new world, going forward. And advice is already thin on the ground, as I discovered after I got home.

Here in the States, everybody refers you to the CDC's website for advice on what to do if you test positive for the virus. My symptoms consisted of a scratchy throat the first day, then a cough and an extremely runny nose -- imagine a wide-open faucet and you'll get the gist -- for several more days. Symptoms vary for different people, but that's what I had. That's classified as a mild case; I never ran a fever, I didn't have shortness of breath, and my pulse oximeter readings were fine (yes, I have one -- I bought it at the beginning of the pandemic when we didn't know anything about anything yet).

If you have a mild case, the CDC says you're supposed to isolate for five days, because you're most contagious during those five days plus a couple of days before you're symptomatic. (The day your symptoms start is Day 0; the next day is Day 1.) 

Once you're past the five-day mark, if your symptoms are easing, you can go out and about during the next five days if you wear a well-fitting mask -- an N95 or KN95 (thank goodness I had some, because I seriously needed to go to the grocery store). Past the ten-day mark, you're not contagious anymore. Probably. But you should monitor yourself for a rebound and start counting again if your symptoms return.

It was at Day 10 that my paranoia set in. I was still pretty congested, and I was still testing positive. If I woke up with a head full of snot, I was still sick, right? So should I continue to isolate? Was it a rebound post-Day 10 if I'd never completely recovered? Why was I still sick? The online guidance said I should be over it, more or less, by Day 10 if I had a mild case. And I had a mild case. Didn't I? Didn't I??

I'm not normally weirded out about illness. I've never been a hypochondriac (oh hey, it's called nosophobia now -- never say this blog isn't educational). But we've been trained to be scared of this virus. For good reason -- don't get me wrong. But the vague guidance kinda made me crazy.

It wasn't until yesterday -- Day 17 -- that I tested negative. I'll do another test tomorrow to make sure that one wasn't a false negative, but I think it's accurate. I feel well again. I actually felt fine yesterday before I did the test, so I'm pretty sure it's not confirmation bias or whatever. 

Anyway. One thing I'd like to mention is the cost of COVID antigen tests. Here in the US, we've been able to get them for free -- for many months, the government would mail them to you for free, and otherwise your health insurance provider was supposed to pick up the tab. Free over-the-counter tests aren't necessarily going to be a thing after the public health emergency ends this coming Thursday, though -- it'll depend on your insurer. You can buy them at the pharmacy, but here's an interesting thing: The ones I've seen for sale at stores here are priced at $20 or more for a box of two tests, or about $10 per test. In Amsterdam, I bought a single antigen test at a drug store for €2.50, or about $2.75. (Don't get me started on US healthcare costs, or we'll be here all night.)

Vaccines will still be available after the public health emergency ends, and you should still be able to get them for free because the federal government requires insurers to pay for vaccines that the government recommends (thanks, Obama!). COVID medications like Paxlovid will remain free while the government's stockpile of them lasts.

I can't tell you about all of the changes, because individual states have their own budgets for healthcare, and some of them never got serious about COVID in the first place. One thing that will be affected nationwide, though, is telehealth. The federal government relaxed rules for healthcare providers so they could offer telehealth visits more widely during the emergency; as of later this week, the old rules will be back in effect.

The key thing to remember is that just because the public health emergency is ending, COVID-19 is not gone. "Endemic" does not mean "disappeared". Hundreds of people are still dying from this illness in the US every day. And I am here to tell you that even a mild case is no fun. So keep being careful out there. And get your last free over-the-counter COVID tests by Thursday.

These moments of bloggy health paranoia have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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