Have Mild Cold-Like Symptoms? You Don’t Need a COVID Test
Jan 7, 2022
Sutter Health
Sick woman lying on couch

If you have cold-like symptoms and fear you have COVID-19 but aren’t sick enough to go to the hospital, stay home and take care of yourself.

That’s the consensus of healthcare professionals as they grapple with short supplies of COVID-19 tests and long waits for results, medical waiting rooms filling with patients who have cold-like symptoms, and a mostly milder variant of COVID that spreads more quickly than others.

Most people with COVID-19 infections with the omicron variant have symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, similar to a bad cold or bronchitis, said Sutter Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. William Isenberg.

“Most people can treat their symptoms at home like they would if they have a cold or the flu,” Dr. Isenberg said. “Isolate at home like you would a cold or the flu, and seek medical help if your symptoms worsen.”

With the majority of the public having been vaccinated, fewer people are having a severe infection with this variant of COVID, he said. In order to stop it from spreading, it’s better to not go out and risk exposing others just to find out if what you have is COVID.

In addition, hospital emergency rooms are experiencing high volumes of patients and it’s not all related to the virus.

“With more people on the roads, combined with harsh winter weather, highway accidents are on the rise,” Dr. Isenberg said. “Additionally, we expect the usual number of people will have heart attacks and strokes. These are the people who truly need the care and services that our emergency departments can uniquely provide. Let’s all make sure those beds are available for our communities.”

In an effort to preserve critical care for those who need it the most, Dr. Isenberg recommends not going to the emergency room or urgent care center if you have mild or moderate symptoms.

“Instead, please consider contacting your doctor, getting a video visit with a nurse or physician, and take good care of yourself or your loved one at home,” Dr. Isenberg said.

Caring for a Cold and Omicron

The list of most common symptoms of the COVID-19 omicron variant include: muscle or body aches, headache, cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, and a fever or chills. Sound familiar?

And, caring for a mild COVID infection is mostly the same as caring for a cold, the CDC reports, with most symptoms lasting a few days. Among the recommendations:

  • Contact your doctor for instructions on care and medicine.
  • See if over-the-counter medicines for fever and congestion help you feel better.
  • And, as your mother always counseled, drink a lot of fluids and get some rest.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention

The CDC has a self-check tool to help you make decisions about seeking appropriate care. Here is a list of emergency warning signs for COVID-19; if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these, call 911:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone

“It’s important that we keep this latest COVID-19 variant contained, because there are people who are unvaccinated and can develop severe sickness, and then there are those who have compromised immune symptoms or other health issues who, even if vaccinated, can end up being hospitalized,” Dr. Isenberg said. “What’s more important is staying home, taking care of yourself, and not infecting anyone else.”

Dr. Isenberg and other medical experts still encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and receive their boosters. It is your best defense against severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization.

And, Dr. Isenberg says, please don’t go to your hospital emergency room or even an urgent care center if you have mild or moderate symptoms.

“If you’re searching for a COVID-19 test and your symptoms are mild or moderate, please do not use the emergency room or urgent care as a means to do so,” he said. “Our emergency rooms are impacted with medical emergencies, including those with severe COVID-19.”

A guide on Sutter’s COVID-19 patient resources can be found here.

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