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This is a bi-weekly Q and A column written by Dr. Lydia S. Segal in conjunction with Chaffee County Public Health. This column is focused on questions readers have about COVID-19 news and sciences.  As Segal points out, ‘Everything I write today is valid for today. COVID-19 news and science are rapidly evolving, assume updates will be made”

QUESTION: If people who are vaccinated are getting the Omicron variant of COVID-19, why should I get vaccinated?

ANSWER: There are two reasons vaccination makes sense even in the time of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The first is transmission and the second is the severity of disease. Remember, vaccines are designed to reduce transmission to others and to lessen the severity of the disease should you get it. They do not work 100 percent of the time, but the current vaccines we have performed extraordinarily well.

Lydia S, Segal, MD, MPHAs we all likely know by now, the Omicron variant is many times more transmissible than the previous variants, including the Delta that emerged in the spring. This means exposure to less quantity of virus for a shorter period of time, can cause transmission. Those who are vaccinated pass less virus for a shorter period of time to those around them if they do get infected.

In terms of severity of disease, early data from the United Kingdom and South Africa is showing that those who are vaccinated, are getting a milder disease. This translates into fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

And as an added bonus, it looks like there is 50 percent less “long COVID” when vaccinated with breakthrough cases than with the unvaccinated cases.

With 400,000 plus getting Omicron daily at this point in the USA, there will still be some who end up needing hospitalization.

So if we want to keep our hospitals from surging, meaning few-to-no available beds, and keep our health care workers from burnout, getting vaccinated will help.

QUESTION:  Can you give some updates on testing, what is available and what are the differences in testing and where do I go to get tested.

ANSWER: There are two basic kinds of tests. One test is the PCR that lets you know if you have COVID. It will NOT tell you which variant you have. The state takes a sample of tests done and does genomic analysis. This is both expensive and time-consuming but gives variant information. Currently, the USA is about 90 percent Omicron variant. In Chaffee County, the majority of cases are still Delta. The expectation is Omicron will take over here as it has in other places.

PCR tests are done by public health and health care settings such as the hospital, pharmacies and your doctor’s office. Chaffee County Public Health runs free testing clinics. Keep in mind you need an appointment.

The link for testing follows: https://www.chaffeecounty.org/Public-Health-Coronavirus#testing

You need to pre-register, meaning you need an appointment. There are a limited number of tests available per day.

The other test is the antigen test that can be done with an at-home rapid test. These are hard to find both locally and online, and there is a shortage across the state. They do detect Omicron but are less sensitive which is why it is suggested to do two tests about two days apart. They are also currently available for free by writing to the state at this link: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-testing-at-home.

This will tell you if you have enough virus to be transmissible to others. This is important as even asymptomatic individuals can pass the virus to others, those with close contact and have not already tested positive elsewhere.  If they test positive elsewhere, a person should assume they are positive, and to follow the new isolation recommendations posted by the CDC.”

It is a good idea to give some thought to how testing will change what you do in terms of activity. The CDC released a week ago new criteria for isolation (those that are sick and have a positive antigen or PCR test) and those that are not sick but have a close contact who is positive, i.e., need to be quarantined.

See this link for detailed information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html

For more information about COVID and the vaccines, eligibility, and appointments, see the links below. Pharmacies and doctors’ offices are getting small shipments of vaccines. Information will be posted online here and on the county public health and hospital web pages.

http://chaffeecounty.org/Public-Health-Coronavirus

https://www.hrrmc.com/covid-19-updates/covid-19-vaccine/

Pharmacies with vaccine clinics:

Salida:  Safeway, Walmart and Salida Pharmacy

Buena Vista: Mt Shavano (LaGree’s), City Market, BV Drug and Valley-Wide Health

If you have questions you would like Dr. Segal to address in a future COVID Q and A column, please write to arkvalleyvoice@gmail.com

By Lydia S. Segal, M.D., MPH