If you live in Southwest Colorado, chances are you or someone you know is sick right now. The Omicron COVID-19 variant is sweeping our region after close contacts and travel over the holidays. There has been a run on thermometers and cough syrup in local stores. Employers are struggling to keep businesses staffed. School nurses and medical providers are exhausted. Despite a challenging start to the new year, we will get through this pandemic wave together. Grab some tissues and make a cup of tea. Our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Luke Casias, MD, has some timely advice and answers to your Omicron questions.

How can I protect myself and my family from Omicron?

With the current spike in cases in our area, it is important to remember that the best way to protect yourself is to get fully vaccinated, continue using your mask (best to use a surgical grade, N-95, KN-95 – not cloth), continue frequent handwashing or hand sanitizer use, and limit your public exposure when possible.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you feel like you have COVID-19 symptoms or you’re concerned about your exposure, get tested. Home and professional antigen rapid tests should be used after the second day of symptoms. If your rapid test is positive, it is most likely accurate; but a negative result can have limitations. PCR testing is best for confirming a negative status, confirming a positive result, and determining the type of virus (Omicron or Delta).

What steps should I take if I test positive?

If you receive a positive result on an antigen rapid test or PCR test, you should isolate yourself and treat your symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if you qualify for monoclonal antibody treatment in short order, as you have a 10-day window for this treatment if you are 65 or older or immunocompromised. Your health department website is a great place to schedule a test, learn about monoclonal antibody screening, and get detailed answers to other COVID-related questions.

How can I help a family member or roommate with COVID and protect myself at home?

If a someone at home has COVID, try and isolate from them as much as possible. Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and don’t share drinks or food. Tylenol is preferred for fever, antihistamines may provide some relief of congestion, and over-the-counter cough medication may help with some of the symptoms. Make sure the sick person rests and gets plenty of fluids.

If I have COVID, when should I seek medical care outside the home?

If breathing and shortness of breath become severe, seek medical attention – especially if you have underlying medical conditions. Most people will either start feeling better around 7 to 10 days or get worse. Monitor yourself and loved ones over this time period.

Axis Health System primary care providers are available for telemedicine and in-person visits. Axis clinics in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Cortez and Dove Creek provide COVID-19 testing, evaluation and treatment. All clinics are accepting new patients of all ages. For more information, visit our COVID-19 Vaccination Scheduling & Resources website page. “Our care teams are here for you as we help each other through this phase of the pandemic,” said Dr. Casias.