BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – The omicron variant has many people worried.
What happens if I am exposed? Do I have to quarantine if I am exposed? Should I get tested at all?
WSAV News 3 went to an expert, Beaufort Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kurt Gambla, for answers.
“When we talk, when we laugh, when we cough we are constantly spewing out particles and these particles have tons of omicron in someone that’s infected,” explains Dr. Gambla. “If we share air with somebody by being in the same room close proximity, we inhale these.”
Dr. Gambla says the virus can also live on surfaces for “a few days,” so if you touch the surface then your eyes, mouth, or nose, you could be infecting yourself.
Omicron reproduces 70 times faster than the delta variant, which is why it spreads so fast and infects people so quickly.
One way to stop it, Gambla says, is simple: wear a mask.
“A cloth single layer mask seems to be less effective against omicron but a mask is a barrier,” he said. “Any mask is better than no mask.”
A K95 mask or double-layered mask with a medical-grade mask and cloth mask is a possible solution.
“A mask works two ways. If I have it and I’m breathing through a mask, it’s catching some of those particles and keeping them from getting out in the air,” Gambla explained. “And then if I am on the receiving end, then obviously a mask will protect me from inhaling them.”
If you do catch omicron, it seems to be milder than the previous delta variant. And it looks a lot like other wintertime viruses.
“For a lot of people, this can look a lot like cold or flu. Runny nose, sore throat, cough muscle ache, fatigue. So it’s difficult just based on symptoms to differentiate omicron versus other respiratory infections.”
If you think you were exposed what should you do?
“There is an incubation period and we do think it’s shorter than with omicron,” said Gambla. “We think the sweet spot is ideally get tested day five; some places say day three to five. Before day three, you can get a lot of false negatives and then false reassurance and then have to test later, which uses up a lot of tests.”
“If you are not symptomatic and you have been fully vaccinated you don’t have to quarantine,” he continued. “You can wear a mask for 10 days and test on day five. If you are not fully vaccinated, including the booster, that’s where you will want to quarantine.”
The first thing to do, Gambla says, is to call your primary care doctor.
“They should know your history best,” he added.
“The key is if you are asymptomatic. you have a little bit of time and you don’t want to rush it and get tested unnecessarily,” Gambla said.
“Not everybody needs to come to the emergency room. Not everybody needs to be tested right away. Talk to your doctor, run through the scenarios, Hopefully, they can give you the best advice when it comes to timing, precautions all of that.”
His message: stay calm.
“Try to avoid the emergency room unless you have significant symptoms which would be chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion,” Gambla added.
“The lion’s share of these things can be managed on an outpatient basis.”
Gambla says the home rapid tests that are available at local pharmacies, while hard to find, are effective in giving you an answer on your immediate COVID status.
“If you plan it right the rapid home antigen tests, if you wait until at least day three or day five, then they are highly reliable,” he said.
The one symptom you may not be able to count on to understand the virus is the loss of taste and smell. According to Gambla, that is not as prevalent in omicron as it was in previous variants of COVID-19.