KANSAS CITY, Mo. — University of Kansas Health System doctors answered many questions people have about the omicron COVID-19 variant in a live-streamed video update Wednesday.
One of the most questioned items was how to tell symptoms of omicron, and COVID-19 in general, from symptoms of sicknesses like flu and the common cold.
"They're all viruses. They all have similar ways of presenting," infectious disease Dr. Dana Hawkinson said. "So if there's any question, the first thing you really need to do is go out and get a test."
He went on to say that there is "absolutely no way based on symptoms" to distinguish between a cold or different COVID-19 variants.
The doctors said they've seen people with COVID-19 whose symptoms included, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, nasal congestion, sore throat, runny nose, cough and fever. Many of those symptoms are common in a variety of illnesses, not just Covid.
Dr. Rachael Liesman who is the director of microbiology and pathology for the system addressed questions about at-home COVID-19 tests not being the most accurate, despite being in high demand at this time.
She said there have been cases where the rapid antigen over-the-counter tests provide a negative test result, but a PCR test given by a provider gave a positive result.
"...it is really disappointing because we need all of the tools in the toolbox for this winter. And so having a decreased sensitivity of those antigen tests, I think is going to be a challenge," Liesman said.
She suggests anyone with symptoms that could be COVID-19 take whatever test is available. A positive over-the-counter test provides the answers needed. However, she encourages anyone with symptoms who receives a negative result on a take-home test to also go get a PCR test to double-check.
With new Centers for Disease Control guidance lessening suggested time periods for quarantine and isolation, there are questions about what those possible symptoms mean for showing up to workplaces or school.
"I think it's dangerous, number one as a clinician, but especially as a layperson or the general public to understand and try to see what their symptoms are and evaluate them and say if they have a common cold or if they have coronavirus. I think that's very dangerous," Hawkinson said.
Chiefs Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites said that it's still better safe than sorry when it comes to the updated guidance.
"So what we're really going to say is after five days you can go back to work if you're asymptomatic, but you have to have a mask on. And what they're really saying is that masking prevents transmission as the degree of transmissibility begins to wane in five days," he explained.
Stites said what the CDC is really focusing on with that guidance is essential and health care workers.
"I'll tell you right here in health care we have significant staffing shortages throughout health care. You're seeing people canceling left and right at the testing clinics because they can't staff the practices, they can't staff the operating rooms, we can't staff inpatient beds," Stites warned. "Health workers are affected by this and we don't have enough staff and people are having to close down things."
He predicts more elective procedures being canceled due to not just increased patient load, but also an increase in the number of health care workers getting sick with Covid.
"So when people say omicron is just a cold... no it's not. It's a cold that can make you really ill," Stites added.
The doctors all encourage a COVID-19 test is the best way to check symptoms and prevent spread to keep the doors of hospitals open.