Johnny has the sniffles. What should you do?
Some New Brunswickers are starting to question whether it's worth the rigmarole of scheduling an appointment to pick up a COVID-19 rapid test and test their children, or themselves — especially with school about to start, no isolation rules in place, and the sniffles so common among kids.
Is there a way to distinguish between COVID and a cold without testing?
Do you need to rapid test every time?
When and why?
Dr. Michael Simon, a family doctor in Saint John, says there are no easy answers.
There are some symptoms, such as a dry cough, which tend to be more associated with COVID, and others, such as a productive cough, which tend to be more associated with viral infections.
"But basically the symptoms are not absolute, they do overlap," he said. "So what I would say to parents, is that if it looks like a cold [and] smells like a cold, you treat it like a cold."
Parents should treat the symptoms and determine whether the child is well enough to go to school, Simon said.
"If they have a bad cold, obviously, you're not gonna send them to class because you don't want to spread that virus, whether it's COVID or not."
Use common sense
You don't necessarily need to test everyone, every time they get sick, according to Simon, although he noted the important role tests play in helping Public Health assess the COVID situation in the province and track any new variants.
"This is a situation where you have to use common sense," he said.
"If you have a six-year-old child and it's a young family and everyone's healthy and they get the sniffles, you may keep them home from school, but you don't have to rapid test everybody … every time you turn around."
If someone's not getting better though, if they have a high fever, for example, or prolonged vomiting, or can't get out of bed; or if you're worried about them because they're immunocompromised, or there's a high-risk situation in the family, "then that would push you more to do a rapid test," he said.
"That would give you information — do you have to isolate, stay away from your grandparent who's getting treated for cancer, for example."
Health Department urges testing
The Department of Health advises people to get tested if they have one of the following symptoms: fever, loss of sense of taste or smell, or two or more of the following symptoms: a new cough or worsening chronic cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, runny nose, headache, diarrhea, new onset of fatigue or purple markings on the fingers and toes of children.
PCR lab tests are limited to the people who:
Are over 50 or under two.
Live or work in a hospital, Extra Mural or Ambulance New Brunswick (EM/ANB), in a long-term care facility, correctional facility or shelter, or are precariously housed.
"As we continue to live with COVID-19, it's important that people who have symptoms get tested to better understand their personal situation," said department spokesperson Adam Bowie.
If people test positive for COVID-19, then they can make an informed decision about what Public Health measures they will follow to help limit the spread of the virus, he said.
"If your test result is positive, you are encouraged to stay home while sick and until your symptoms have improved, wear a well-fitted mask when you do go out, physical distance from others, avoid gatherings, limit contact with vulnerable individuals who are at a high risk of severe outcomes, and access COVID medication if eligible and necessary," Bowie said in an emailed statement.
"It's important to remember that we all have a responsibility to look out for each other."
Anyone who tests positive through a rapid test is also encouraged to report their results through the Department of Health's website, he said. "That information helps Public Health better understand the spread of the virus within the region."
Doctors brace for surge in infections
Simon said family doctors are bracing for a surge in COVID and viral infections this fall, when people are indoors more and the risk of transmission increases.
He predicts they will see "a lot more" than they have in the last two years when Public Health measures, such as masking and physical distancing, were still in place.
We don't have the capacity like we did before to deal with an increased number of admissions or an increased number presenting to the emergency room. - Michael Simon, family doctor
"We're a little apprehensive," he said, because the hospital system is "already under duress," with patients waiting in emergency departments for beds, and emergency departments being temporarily shut down due to staff shortages.
"This is going to throw an added wrench into the whole machine because we don't have the capacity like we did before to deal with an increased number of admissions or an increased number presenting to the emergency room.
"So that's the added fear this year, or I shouldn't say fear, more like worry."
Students are set to resume classes today restriction-free for the first time in two years. There are no mask, distancing or cleaning mandates and no outbreak protocols, according to the Department of Education.
Among children aged five to 11, the first-dose vaccination rate is 56 per cent and the two-dose rate is 40 per cent, as of Tuesday, according to Bowie.
He did not respond to a request to provide the vaccination rates for youth aged 12 to 19, or children under five.
Simon advises people to get their COVID-19 booster shot and flu shot, to mask indoors, to wash their hands frequently, and to stay home if they're sick.
"Those simple rules will go a long way [to] keep you healthy, keep your family healthy and especially the vulnerable population."