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How to Avoid COVID Now, According to a Doctor

If you love your family and friends, keep them safe from coronavirus.
Woman doctor smiling and looking to the camera while a medical team is working.

It's inevitable: COVID-19 will surge over the holiday season. In fact, that surge is already starting, as evidenced by the patients I say daily in urgent care. 

One of the biggest issues we are battling right now is that we still don't have the appropriate amount of testing, testing reagent, and timely testing necessary for timely, accurate detection of the virus. Several months into the pandemic and there's still so much question about the accuracy of the tests, with some stating as high as 30% chance of false negatives. We also don't have much data comparing the different types of tests—deep nasal, anterior nares, and saliva. Some sources are saying they are all comparable, while others are not. And, even if you get a negative test result, there's up to a 30% chance that you could still have COVID, as per our latest numbers. 

Related: Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

That being the case, the only sure way to stop the spread is by isolating yourself if you're symptomatic. However, many people don't experience symptoms. And the ones who do, we are seeing viral shedding a few days before a person even becomes symptomatic. Those symptoms exhibited by infected individuals are all very much like those of the flu and the common cold, with the exception of anosmia (complete loss of taste and smell).  

The only true way to minimize the risk to self and others is by staying home, and when you cannot, staying masked.  

For all of these reasons, the Holidays are especially concerning. Many people feel guilty about telling their family members "no" to get together, especially around the holiday times. However, another way to look at it is that saying "no" means you love those people and want to keep them safe.

Before gathering with your loved ones for the holidays, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is the probability that everyone at the gathering will wear a mask? (If everyone doesn't wear one, they don't really work well).  
  2. Will other family members be able to respect social distancing? (Or will it be hard for them to NOT hug and kiss you and your children?) 
  3. Who are those other family members?  Are they extended family? (Remember, it only takes one person with undiagnosed COVID, to spread the virus.)

In my dealings with sick patients, most will almost inevitably tell me initially, that they have not had any possible COVID exposures — and this is really what they believe. Then, when I ask further questions about their work, I find that while they wear a mask when on the floor of the store they work in, they don't wear eye protection and they're often in the break rooms in the back, eating and talking, unmasked, with many other colleagues they really don't know much about. These same people who tell me they are masked, will also be innocently wearing their mask around their mouth and not covering their noses. This is something to take into consideration when you have the difficult conversations with people — we all want to think we're doing a good job at masking and minimizing risk, however that's not always the case.

We all want to be able to trust others, especially our families and loved ones. However, I think it's very important to be upfront and have these conversations in advance, especially at a time when infections are peaking and a surge is inevitable.  

Keep remembering that this too shall pass. While two or three years feels like a lifetime now, in the long run, it's just a drop in the bucket. I know this is a hard line to swallow when you have aging family members who's mortality is very evident, so I'm not saying don't visit. What I"m begging you to do is to pay extra attention to masking, utilize eye protection, and social distance yourself from others. And, maybe forgo that large family gathering, instead replacing it with just a few, select people, who will be sure to take the same preventative measures as you are. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Dana Mincer, DO
Dr. Dana Mincer, DO is a family medicine and urgent care physician. Read more