Food shortages in supermarkets, RAT tests completely sold out and testing queues that can see you waiting for hours on end: if you thought 2022 would see an end to the coronavirus, think again. Omicron has been something of a game-changer in the pandemic. While the delta variant saw much of Australia locked down for months on end, with much of the population vaccinated, the government has instead sought to live with the virus. Only in this instance, it means cases around Australia are escalating at an incredible rate, with health officials warning omicron can make you contagious before you test positive, allowing for rapid spread.
As Dr Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and former professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained to former White House Covid-19 advisor Andy Slavitt in a recent episode of In The Bubble podcast, “Omicron does appear to be more infectious, so it might be taking off and actually spreading the first day or two before there’s enough virus in your nose to turn the [rapid] antigen test positive – or the PCR test positive, for that matter.”
Mina added, “You might already be infectious, and that’s potentially because the virus now is just so able to potentially aerosolise and get out of people at lower amounts.”
With more than 500,000 confirmed active cases of Covid-19 across the country and close to a million cases reported during the current outbreak, NSW and Victoria are predicted to hit the peak of daily infections in mid-February. It means those who have yet to get omicron are likely to get it soon. It’s comforting to know that for those who have contracted Covid-19 and been vaccinated, the symptoms are largely manageable and some even report feeling rather healthy despite being infected. Still, medical officers are urging people to prepare as more people are going to test positive. As Federal deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said in a press conference, “It’s important to be prepared because you won’t be able to go to your supermarket or pharmacy if you are diagnosed with Covid-19.”
If you’re yet to get Covid-19, here’s what you can do to best prepare.
Visit the chemist
Given that you won’t be able to go to the shops once infected, make sure you are fully stocked with paracetamol and ibuprofen to treat symptoms like fever, aches and pains. Decongestants like pseudoephedrine, which is the active ingredient in some cold and flu pills, can also help relieve sinus pains and symptoms like a runny nose, while throat lozenges can relieve the sore throat that seems to be specific to Omicron. Electrolytes are also helpful, be it in the powder form or as icy poles, as hydration is key to recovery and managing symptoms.
Stock up on nutrient-rich staples
Ensure your fridge is stocked with healthy foods and that you have nutrient-rich staples on hand for when you’re sick. Your body needs energy and nutrients to fight the virus and it’s essential that you’re eating well during this time. There’s currently a food shortage due to staff workers who have tested positive, so going to local grocers or markets are your best option. Things like dried or tinned legumes, tinned fish, eggs, nuts and natural yoghurt are great options, while pasta and rice on hand also goes a long way. If you really want to be proactive, you can also meal prep.
GPs have said that nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea aren’t uncommon, and to stick to “white coloured” foods like pasta, rice, potato and white bread, while also ensuring you’re drinking enough so that your urine looks pale.
Prep the home space
If you’re living with others, have a conversation about who will isolate where and how you can best keep out of each other’s hair during this time. When it comes to your bedroom (where you’ll likely be recovering), ensure the space is tidy and that you have clean sheets on hand for those night sweats and fever, should you experience the symptoms. You might also want to vacuum, as Covid-19 is known to make the symptoms of asthma and hay-fever worse.
What should you do when you test positive?
If you’ve taken a RAT and tested positive, you’re no longer required to get a PCR test. And for those who have symptoms and can’t get either a PCR or RAT, it’s recommended that you assume you have Covid and self-isolate until you can get tested. In this instance, tell a support person – someone who is able to check on you every day, either in person or by the phone. Notify work and cancel any other commitments you might have coming up for the following week and notify any close contacts.
It’s recommended that those with mild illness and no other risk factors manage their symptoms at home, meaning you don’t need to notify your GP if you’re young, fit and healthy. For those over 65, pregnant, immunocompromised, or are unvaccinated/partially vaccinated and have certain diseases like diabetes, obesity, kidney, heart, liver or lung disease, you can consult a GP as you may be able to access medications due to the high risk factors surrounding pre-existing conditions.
The national Healthdirect website suggests calling your GP for a Telehealth assessment if you are unable to get your own food, can’t drink, can’t go to the toilet normally and can’t take your regular medication. You should also bypass your GP and go straight to hospital if you develop breathlessness and are unable to speak in sentences, are unusually sleepy or lethargic or become unconscious at any point, have skin that becomes clammy and cold, or turns blue or pale, have pain or pressure in the chest, experience confusion, pass no urine or a lot less urine than usual, or cough up blood.
When it comes to the days spent isolating, current guidelines are complicated however GPs recommend at least seven days of isolation. Rules around safely stopping isolation centre on protecting both yourself and others. As a general rule, stop isolating once you’re no longer infectious (evidenced by a negative PCR or RAT), your symptoms have passed and you feel well enough to return to your normal life.