With as much as you’d think we know about the coronavirus, my own experiences are that there is contradictive information and confusion about what to do. Here’s an option if you find yourself in this scenario: You feel slightly under the weather, have a tell-tale COVID-19 symptom, or maybe you find out that someone you were with just with tested positive. You’re vaccinated and believe the odds of getting COVID are unlikely, but what should you do?
Don’t blow it off. There are two things in your immediate future: COVID-19 testing and a call to a doctor.
If you have symptoms, get tested right away. If you don’t, but know you’ve been exposed, you should call your doctor right away and I’ll explain why. You’ll probably need to wait three to five days from exposure for accurate test results.
I find that the testing options kind of suck. Either you pay a lot for a rapid test, get stuck for a long time in waiting rooms, or you have to endure what feels like an eternity for results from the free city / county testing sites. It’s not really very long, a couple of days, but most of us don’t have the time or patience.
Problem solved: at-home tests! There’s a huge demand. Bloomberg reported last month they were selling faster than masks and toilet paper. In August, they were top sellers on Amazon and at drug stores, and supplies are low.
While it feels very helpful to have access to cheap answers – the at-home tests cost around $20 to $25 – fast and on your schedule, you are now operating outside of the health care system. And this is where I think there’s confusion and potentially a major missed opportunity that could save a life.
Whether your symptoms are mild or you’ve only had exposure, seek a doctor’s care immediately and press for a discussion about available treatments. By now, any primary care physician should be well-informed.
I’m talking about the monoclonal antibody infusion treatments for people with mild or moderate COVID. In El Paso, The Hospitals of Providence is the only provider to offer it and you can only access it with a doctor’s order. It is the same treatment that was originally piloted and offered at the convention center earlier this year. These are the pharmaceutical products with ridiculous names like Bamlanivimab and etesevimab, or Casirivimab and imdevimab.
The Texas Tribune recently reported that these treatments are estimated to decrease your chances of hospitalization up to 70%. They are continuously evolving and improving so we’re likely to see even better results soon. This past week Brii Biosciences said their latest treatment cocktail showed a reduction of COVID hospitalization and death by 78%.
Across Texas there’s been a huge uptick in infusions. In El Paso, Cory Grijalva who’s in charge of the treatment administration at Providence says that they’ve seen a 300% increase since June.
Part of that is due to the spike in COVID cases. But part of it is that doctors across the state are increasingly on board with prescribing this treatment, and, in May, the FDA loosened the rules about who is eligible.
Providence states the treatment is intended for patients who meet the following criteria: You have been exposed or been in close contact to an individual who is COVID-19 positive and you are at high risk for severe COVID-19 – in this case you can even get the treatment as preventive; or, you tested positive for COVID-19; you are a non-hospitalized person age 12 or older; you have mild to moderate symptoms; you are within 10 days of symptom onset.
But, Grijalva says, if you are already on supplemental oxygen, you cannot get the treatment. She says studies have shown that at the point the patient requires the oxygen, the treatment could be more detrimental than helpful.
That’s why it’s so important to consider this early on – before you’re so sick you need to be hospitalized or even if you’re not sick but have high risks that could develop later. The whole idea is to keep you out of the hospital, out of the ICU, and ultimately avoid intubation.
The treatments are a good tool, but Grijalva is clear that it is in no way a substitute for the vaccine. The vaccine is a much better preventative tool for severe infection and is our No. 1 defense to curb COVID spread. And in some cases, we need both.
I should add that if you’re non-vaccinated, you should really press for this treatment option, hopefully get better, and then reconsider your vaccination status. If we would all get vaccinated, we could stomp this pandemic out pretty quickly and move on with our lives. Then we could avoid booster vaccines and send product along to countries that desperately need first vaccines.
A list of testing locations is available at epstrong.org. I found at-home tests on CVS.com and still think they are useful in fast-tracking this process, especially as often as we get the sniffles. I had not realized, however, how or when to access the antibody therapies and would have probably been more reluctant to call the doctor early on.