With the COVID-19 pandemic still sweeping the country, Texans continue to visit testing sites and anxiously monitor symptoms every day. But what happens when you receive a positive test result? While no one wants to catch this unpredictable virus, there are pieces of information that can make your experience optimally safe for you, your family and your community.
Director of Nursing for Texas Tech Physicians Erin Nash Rowin, MSN, R.N., collaborated alongside Performance Improvement Director Lacy Phillips, MSN, R.N., and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s (TTUHSC) Family Medicine clinic, Internal Medicine clinic and Student Health clinic to provide a drive-through area that tests for COVID-19, as well as strep and the flu. Based on her experiences with the TTUHSC drive-through testing site—which is for existing patients and requires individuals make a clinic appointment or go through a triage—Rowin has developed a keen understanding of what considerations should be made throughout this process.
Take a possible exposure seriously
Erin Nash Rowin, MSN, R.N.
For those who are getting tested for COVID-19, Rowin's first piece of advice is to not wait until a positive test result to start behaving as though you are contagious.
At the TTUHSC drive-through testing site, Rowin explained that they don’t test without reason. During a telemedicine visit with a provider or a triage with a nurse, patients discuss their symptoms and exposure. Through that conversation, it is decided whether or not a drive-through appointment is necessary.
We want to treat patients. We want to make sure we’re not just testing to test,” said Rowin.
Whether you’re being tested for a possible exposure or because you feel sick, you should self-quarantine even before test results come in. When patients get tested at the drive-through they are given a piece of paper that confirms they were tested and asks those tested to self-quarantine immediately.
“If you are sick enough that you’re getting a test for COVID, then you shouldn’t be running around town,” said Rowin. “You should be self-quarantining and you shouldn’t be going to class or going to work if you feel like you should get tested.”
Monitoring symptoms at home
Along with the paper confirming they were tested, individuals are given documents from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with clearly written tips for those who are recovering from COVID-19 at home. These steps involve staying at home, cleaning surfaces and closely monitoring your own symptoms.
Rowin has an abundance of knowledge about the COVID-19 virus not only from a professional standpoint, but also from personal experience. Rowin was infected with the virus earlier in the year, and has friends both within and outside of the health care profession who have contracted COVID-19. Her advice for staying at home with the virus highlighted continual hydration and keeping an eye out for any symptoms that might worsen.
“A typical symptom that would require emergency care is if your oxygen saturation, your O2 percentage, drops below 88,” said Rowin. “You need a pulse oximeter to read that—it reads your heart rate and your O2 saturation.”
A pulse oximeter can be found at a reasonable price—as low as 10 dollars—from standard pharmacies (Rowin got her own from Amazon). For anyone who doesn’t want to buy a pulse oximeter, Rowin advises simply monitoring your shortness of breath.
“If they’re positive [for COVID] and can’t catch their breath and if it’s something that’s causing them issues, that would be a good reason to contact your primary care provider or seek emergency care.”
When to seek outside help
The main reason to seek emergency care is when a COVID-positive individual’s symptoms significantly worsen—especially when it comes to difficulty breathing. However, Rowin explained that letting your primary care provider (PCP) know about your positive test result right away is a good idea.
“I ended up COVID-positive back in July, and I got tested through work, not through my PCP,” said Rowin. “I have a really good relationship with my PCP, so the moment I knew I was positive I contacted her and told her. Because even if you get tested in a pop-up shop or CVS and you find out that you’re positive, telling your physician helps them. So if your symptoms worsen, they already know you have COVID and they’re prepared.”
Rowin added to call 911 or go to an emergency room if anything develops or worsens. Of course, protect others in the hospital by wearing a mask. For non-emergency visits with a provider, Rowin said to call ahead, as your health care provider will likely want to assist you via telemedicine.
For those who test positive and live in a home with others, it can be daunting to try to protect them from getting infected. While there are ways to keep yourself away from others in your own household, Rowin says all you can do is try your best.
“It’s hard because when you live in the same house you’re going to breathe the same air,” said Rowin, “but you need to do everything you can.” Rowin understands on a personal level that staying completely isolated from family members isn’t always realistic.
“I have a five year old… You do your best,” said Rowin, who stressed the importance of mask usage in the house and continual surface cleaning.
“If I’m the positive one and I need to go to the kitchen, I need to wear my mask and I need to ensure I’m cleaning all surfaces I touch after I’m done.” Rowin offered.
If COVID-positive individuals are capable, Rowin advised choosing a sleeping area away from your family.
“If you have extra rooms or you can take over one room while you’re sick, you’ll want to do that if it’s possible, though that’s not feasible for everyone.”
Getting back out there
According to the CDC, individuals are safe to be around others 10 days after symptoms first arise. This sounds like a simple instruction, but there are many ways this can be confusing—if, for example, your symptoms have not improved after 10 days. For those who are unsure, Rowin encourages contacting your PCP.
“Always when you’re dealing with sickness like this you want to get that information from your primary care provider,” said Rowin. “It could be a nurse practitioner, or a physician's assistant, or a doctor—but one of those could clear you. Going back to a medical professional’s judgement is wise.”
Among people she knows who have contracted COVID, Rowin has noticed a trend of people pushing themselves to feel better quickly. Rowin does not recommend that strategy.
“Even if you start to feel better, still take time to make sure you’re recovered. Some people push themselves, and many don't have a choice—which I totally get, if you have children, for example—but it's not something you can just push through,” said Rowin. “You never know when you're going to react in certain ways that send you to the emergency room.”
Choosing selflessness over convenience
As 2020 comes to a close, there is undoubtedly plenty that people across the world have sacrificed in the name of COVID-19. It’s natural that people are eager to step back into a world where a social life isn’t dangerous. Even with promising talks of a vaccine on the horizon, Rowin emphasized that protecting people is more important than our own convenience.
“My biggest takeaway during this time is that if it’s not convenient for us, we don't want to abide by the rules. Being at home for ten days—or having your children or husband at home for ten days—is not convenient,” said Rowin, who added that this concept seemed particularly hard to grasp for those whose symptoms are mild.
“With what we have going on in Lubbock, Texas, clearly we still have a problem. So we need that selfless mindset of ‘I’m doing what’s right, not what’s convenient for me and my family.’” Rowin said. “It’s not about convenience. It’s about being safe and following the direction of your doctor, the CDC and the health department.”