With Silicon Valley becoming the epicenter of an explosion of coronavirus cases, it’s only natural to second guess every throat tickle.
So what should you do if you think you have coronavirus? And how can you find out if you have it? We turned to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and credible expert sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?
Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms of the virus also known as COVID-19. The severity of the symptoms can vary widely from mild to severe, with the most severe illness typically occurring in older adults. In some cases, those infected with coronavirus may experience no symptoms.
I just learned someone I had contact with a week ago was diagnosed with coronavirus. Should I take a test if I don’t have any symptoms?
If the person was in close contact, you should isolate for 14 days to ensure you don’t exhibit any symptoms, county public health officials said. If you have symptoms, call your doctor to let them know.
The CDC urges people to call a health care provider if someone has a fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, especially if that person has been in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19 or resides in or recently traveled from an area with the virus. Those especially at risk, such as the elderly or people with severe underlying medical conditions should contact a doctor at the first sign of symptoms. If an individual experiences persistent pain or pressure in the chest, an unusual state of confusion or bluish lips, they should seek care immediately.
Santa Clara County has an updated list of confirmed cases posted on the county website.
Is the general community considered at low risk? How likely is it that I might have it or that I may have it in the future?
The general public is at low-risk for severe disease from the coronavirus, but widespread transmission is expected by the CDC, said county public health officials. Officials urge residents to continue self-isolating, washing your hands frequently and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from people outside of your household whenever possible.
The county’s shelter in place order was issued to help slow the spread of the virus.
Is there an estimate for how many unreported cases there might be in the county?
It is unknown how many unreported cases are in the county. Recent estimates from Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said it could be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people who test positive for the virus.
When do I need to call a doctor?
The county asks residents to call a doctor if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus which include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Anyone exhibiting symptoms should stay at home and contact their doctor.
In Santa Clara County, the doctor will determine if a test is necessary using CDC guidelines.
This tool, developed by the USC Gehr Family Center for Health Systems Science and Innovation, will help people with mild and moderate symptoms of COVID-19 know when to seek care:
Who should I call if I don’t have a regular medical office or I am uninsured?
The county recommends that uninsured people contact Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
When should I go to the hospital?
If someone is experiencing severe symptoms they should call 9-1-1, the county advises.
How is it determined who is tested? Also, where are the tests sent for results? How many tests can be processed in the county in one day?
The county public health laboratory receives all of its test kits from the CDC and is able to do a maximum of 100 tests per day.
A growing availability of testing through commercial and academic laboratories has expanded the overall testing capacity beyond public health laboratories, county officials said. The Public Health Department will prioritize COVID-19 testing for people experiencing a fever or lower respiratory symptoms, such as cough or shortness of breath.
The CDC adds that not everyone needs to be tested, and even those mildly ill with COVID-19 can isolate and recover at home.
How long will it take to get the results back, and do I need to stay quarantined while I wait for the results?
It has typically taken 5 to 7 days to get results, the county reports. Health officials strongly recommend that people who have been tested remain self-isolated while awaiting test results.
How does testing work?
Laboratory tests can identify the virus that causes COVID-19 in respiratory specimens. The most commonly used test is a nasopharyngeal swab, which takes a sample from the back of the throat with what resembles a giant Q-tip.
Due to a shortage of coronavirus tests in the U.S., the FDA in February relaxed restrictions, allowing commercial manufacturers to develop coronavirus tests. Previously, doctors had to rely on public health laboratories or the CDC to test samples. However, the FDA issued a warning that at-home coronavirus tests are unauthorized.
How accurate are the tests? Is it possible to have a false positive or negative?
False negatives can result if a patient is tested too early or there is an insufficient amount of virus to be detected. Improper sampling or defective kits may also result in a false negative. This should be considered in the context of a patient’s recent exposures and the presence of clinical signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19, according to MedicineNet.
When will more tests be available?
Roche Diagnostics Corp., which says it’s distributing 400,000 tests per week to labs in the U.S., says that test development takes about 18 months, in addition to the FDA’s review time.
Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory is testing hundreds of samples daily and hopes to conduct more than 1,000 tests per day. Lab medical director Dr. Benjamin Pinsky said they’re “tapping their resources at Stanford University and Stanford Health Care to provide the tests clinicians need” as quickly as possible.
The Clinical Virology Laboratory is providing testing services to several hospitals in the Bay Area.
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