SALT LAKE CITY — You feel a fever coming on. You've developed a mild cough. You feel sluggish, run down.
Common cold? Or the new coronavirus?
The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China last year from a novel form of coronavirus, is introducing a new level of uncertainty to every illness these days — especially since cases began popping up in Utah.
Maybe you're fine — but if you do have COVID-19, shouldn't you act right away? Self-quarantine? Tell the health department?
As of Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health had tested at least 6,837 Utans for the novel coronavirus and confirmed 346 cases. That means about 95% of those tested were negative and may have been experiencing symptoms for something else, like the seasonal flu.
Still, Utah hospitals and clinics are expanding access to testing so those with symptoms can know for sure. University of Utah Health announced on Monday that all patients who present at its in-car testing sites with symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath will be tested for COVID-19.
The in-car sites previously required a physician’s referral before testing a patient. U of U Health has in-car testing locations at the Sugar House, South Jordan, Redwood and Farmington health centers.
There are now many ways to check your symptoms against those for COVID-19. Intermountain Healthcare introduced a symptom checker tool last week that uses artificial intelligence to screen possible cases and direct users to more information. Various agencies and hospitals have also created coronavirus hotlines, including:
- University of Utah Health: 801-587-7012 or 844-745-9325
- Intermountain Healthcare: 844-442-5224
- Utah Department of Health: 1-800-456-7707
The Intermountain website contains general recommendations for people who believe they may have COVID-19. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.
“The severity of COVID-19 symptoms can range from very mild to severe,” the site says. “Some people have no symptoms. People who are older or have existing chronic medical conditions … may be at higher risk of serious illness.”
For those with mild symptoms or no symptoms, the site recommends they stay home, rest, drink fluids, and stay 6 feet away from others.
Those with mild to moderate symptoms are also welcome to visit an Intermountain screening location.
- To help mitigate infectious transmission of COVID-19, health care officials advise anyone who thinks they might have the virus to first call their doctor before going to a hospital
- Wash hands thoroughly and often
- Stay home if you’re feeling sick
- Don’t touch your face
- Cough or sneeze in your elbow or a tissue
- You could be at risk of having COVID-19 if you’ve recently traveled to mainland China, South Korea or, to a lesser extent, Japan, Italy and Iran
- Infected patients typically have a fever, cough and shortness of breath
People experiencing severe symptoms, on the other hand, should treat them like any other medical emergency, the site says: call 911. “If COVID-19 is suspected, the caller should notify the operator if possible so responders are prepared.”
Health officials do recommend that potential COVID-19 patients alert health care providers before turning up at clinics or emergency rooms so the staff can prepare.
To summarize, the majority of Utahns who are sick and getting tested for COVID-19 are actually suffering from something else, be it seasonal allergies, influenza, the common cold or another ailment.
But with nearly 350 cases and climbing, testing is becoming more readily available and there are several ways for Utahns with symptoms to learn more about getting tested.
When the coronavirus first appeared in Utah, health officials were focusing on residents who had recently traveled to impacted areas. But now that the state has seen instances of community spread — infections without travel history or exposure to a known case — anyone with symptoms could be a candidate for testing.
On Sunday, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said about 10% of Utah’s COVID-19 cases have required hospitalization so far. So for most people experiencing symptoms, the best advice is to stay home, self-isolate, and get well soon.