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COVID Symptoms to Watch For This Month

How to stay safe during the COVID surge, according to doctors.

The latest COVID surge is fueled by the spread of Omicron and has caused the U.S. to reach bleak milestones of record-high cases. The most COVID cases were reported in a week since the beginning of the pandemic according to World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus."Last week, more than 15 million new cases of Covid-19 were reported to WHO from around the world – by far the most cases reported in a single week – and we know this is an underestimate," Tedros said during a news briefing in Geneva. "This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries." Taking precautions and staying healthy is vital during this time and Eat This, Not That! Health talked with Robert G. Lahita MD, Ph.D. ("Dr. Bob"), Director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at Saint Joseph Health and author of Immunity Strong who explained what symptoms to watch out for and why the surge is happening. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why the COVID Surge is Happening Now

Portrait of sick young man in blue jacket put on a hood, having a cold, feeling unwell, coughing, wearing medical face mask, outdoors

Dr. Bob explains, "A COVID surge is when we see a large spike in new cases. We've seen this happen after big traveling and gathering periods — such as holidays. Winter is particularly bad because it's also flu season, so we have people getting sick with the common cold, the flu, and COVID at the same time. There are a lot of employee shortages with so many out sick at the same time with different infections. Additionally, the holidays can often stress people out, and stress can dampen your immune system's ability to fight viruses."


Symptoms People Should Watch Out For

Woman suffering an anxiety sitting on a couch.

According to Dr. Bob, "People should watch for fever, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell as these are all possible Covid symptoms."  Dr. Teresa Bartlett, senior medical officer at Sedgwick says, "The majority of people are exhibiting a severe sore throat and describing it as swallowing razor blades, stuffy nose, fever, body aches and a cough. Often the virus starts with a headache and many think they have a sinus infection. Be on the lookout for these symptoms. I have spoken to so many patients who think if they did not lose taste or smell they can't possibly have COVID but that simply is not true."

Dr. Shadi Vahdat, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and medical director at LiveWell Integrative Medicine adds, "For a lot of people infected with Omicron the symptoms will be much like the common cold. In one study from Norway where most people infected with the Omicron variant were vaccinated  they reported the most common symptoms as cough (83%), runny nose/stuffy nose (78%), fatigue/lethargy (74%), sore throat (72%), headache (68%) and fever (54%), reduced taste (23%), reduced smell (12%). 42% reported mild to moderate symptoms and none required hospitalization. For many front line workers who are taking care of COVID patients in the emergency rooms and hospitals it seems evident that most of the severely impacted and sick who require hospitalization and ICU admissions the vast majority continue to be those who are unvaccinated."  

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Why Hospitalization Rates are Skyrocketing

One nurse looking at the medical ventilator screen.

According to Dr. Bob, "People are still going to the hospital due to COVID, but a smaller proportion of those patients are in ICU or on ventilators. Some data show roughly 50 to 65 percent of admissions in some New York hospitals come in for other issues and then test positive for the virus. The thing with Omicron is that it is EXTREMELY transmissible. If you're in a room with someone who has it, you will probably get it. It's spreading like wildfire, which means a lot of people are going to get it at once, and that means hospitals who are already facing staff shortages and burnt out workers are going to be filling up." 

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When Will the Surge Peak?

Female and male doctors wearing masks and uniforms are visiting to check the symptoms of middle-aged female patients lying in bed.

While nobody can know for sure, experts are estimating it could happen later this month, but the next couple of weeks are critical. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told ABC's This Week. "We're seeing two sets of things happening: A lot of vaccinated people getting infected. We're doing fine. Largely avoiding getting particularly sick, avoiding the hospital; a lot of unvaccinated people and high-risk people who have not gotten boosted and they're really filling up the hospitals, and so our hospital systems are under a lot of stress." He continued, "Then we have to start thinking about a long-term strategy for how do we manage this virus and not go from surge to surge feeling like we don't really have a longer-termed approach." 

Jha added, "I expect this surge to peak in the next couple of weeks. It'll peak in different places of America at different times, but once we get into February, I really do expect much, much lower case numbers."


How to Stay Out of the ER During the Surge

Close up shot of hands checking Covid-19 vaccine report card and ticking 3rd or booster dose after vaccination.

"It's simple: They can get vaccinated and boosted. This is the best way to keep yourself out of the hospital – and to stay alive," Dr. Bob states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following ways to help stay healthy" "Wear a mask; Stay 6 Feet From Others; Inside your home, avoid close contact with people who are sick; Outside of your home, remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus." So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather