COVID-19 testing is perhaps more important than ever during the post-holiday surge of the omicron variant of the virus.

This is reflected in increased demand for rapid Antigen test kits and resulting shortages of these at-home tests. Long wait times for other types of testing aren’t unusual.

An infectious disease expert at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist suggested that not everyone experiencing cold- and fu-like symptoms needs to get tested for COVID-19.

Speaking during his weekly COVID-19 update on Facebook Live on Jan. 6, Dr. Christopher Ohl said he believes testing isn’t necessary for people who aren’t in “essential jobs” and don’t live with or care for people at greater risk from COVID-19 due to health conditions.

People in essential jobs include everything from health care and emergency services workers to grocery store and delivery staff.

Ohl said people with cold-like symptoms who don’t need to get tested for these or certain other reasons still need to self-quarantine at home for five days. They also need to continue wearing a mask for five more days.

He brought this up after saying supplies of rapid Antigen test kits are mostly exhausted and hospital emergency departments and urgent care centers are being overwhelmed by people coming there for COVID-19 testing. Ohl said this is a problem for people coming to these facilities with genuine medical emergencies.

“I understand that some people don’t know if their cold and flu symptoms are an emergency,” Ohl added. He said an emergency room trip likely isn’t necessary if a person has a fever, aches, sore throat and other symptoms normally experienced with a cold or flu.

“If you’re short of breath, like when you’re going up the basement steps…. If you get winded and you can’t catch your breath and normally you have no trouble, that’s a reason to go” to the emergency room. Chest pain also is a reason.

People with problems thinking clearly or with blood oxygen levels below 90% on a pulse oximeter should go to the emergency room, he added.

Ohl said the same thing is happening with emergency medical service (EMS) calls in some areas, with people dialing 911 for EMS when what they really want is to be tested for COVID-19. “If it’s simply so you can get a test, that’s abusing the system and it’s going to take our ambulances away from people who really need them.”

Ohl also offered concise advice on masking.

He said a tight-fitting (especially around the nose), two-ply, cloth mask is effective in preventing the wearer from infecting others, but a well-fitting surgical or N95 or KN95 mask should be worn for personal protection.

Because cloth masks usually are more comfortable, especially for long periods, Ohl suggested wearing an N95 or KN95 mask when in close quarters with others and a cloth mask other times of the day.

The bottom line is that masking is essential in many indoor situations for the next several weeks. Masks needs to fit and be worn correctly.

Ohl said a good-fitting mask, especially if made of cloth, is one that moves in and out when the wearer breathes.

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