Get the Facts: Ask Brock the Doc

Dr. UriAt Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, our business is caring for people.

EBCH wants to make sure everyone in our community has the most up-to-date information about COVID-19.

That’s why we’re featuring two questions about COVID-19 each week – questions answered by our own EBCH Chief Medical Officer and ER physician Dr. Brock Urie.

Ask Brock the Doc – information you can trust.

What are the current recommendations for when to get a COVID-19 booster?

Below are recommendations for each of the three available vaccines:

Pfizer

  • Anyone age 12 and older is eligible
  • Get the booster five months after completing the initial series

Moderna

  • Adults age 18 and older are eligible
  • Get the booster six months after completing the initial series

Johnson & Johnson 

  • Adults 18 and older who initially received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine
  • Get the booster two months after the initial dose
Does it mean that the vaccine isn’t working since I need to get a booster?

COVID-19 vaccines are still working well to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death. However, public health officials are seeing a reduction in antibodies over time against mild or moderate cases of COVID-19. With the booster, you have a better chance of not getting COVID-19 or at least not experiencing severe symptoms. The recent surge in the Omicron variant reaffirms the need for vaccinations, boosters, social distancing, and masking to protect against COVID-19. 

Do I still need to get a flu shot if I got vaccinated for COVID-19?

Yes – The flu and COVID-19 are different diseases, so you need both vaccines to be protected. Getting the flu shot will not counteract the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it is safe for you to get them at the same time. Ely Community Pharmacy offers Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations and flu shots every Friday from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. with no appointment necessary. 

What are the new guidelines for quarantining?

If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are NOT up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations:

  • Stay home and quarantine for a full five days
  • Wear a well-fitting mask if you are around other people in your home
  • Even if you do not develop any symptoms, get tested five days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19
  • Watch for symptoms for at least 10 days after your close contact – if you develop symptoms isolate and get tested right away

If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations OR if you were exposed to COVID-19 and were confirmed COVID-19 positive (with a viral test) within the past 90-days: 

  • You do not need to stay home unless you develop symptoms
  • Get tested five days after your last close contact with someone with COVID-19, even if you do not develop symptoms
  • Watch for symptoms for at least 10 days after your close contact – if you develop symptoms, isolate and get tested right away

In all cases, you should avoid travel and people who are considered high-risk. 

If I test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, what should I do?

Regardless of your vaccination status, if you test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms you need to stay home for five days – and also isolate yourself from others in your home during that time. If you can’t avoid being around others in your home, wear a well-fitting mask. You can end your isolation after five full days if you are without a fever for at least 24-hours (without medication) and your other symptoms improve. The exception is loss of taste or smell; this can last for weeks or months following  COVID-19 and should not delay ending isolation. 

The holidays are over; what do I need to know about COVID-19 now?

Since many of us gathered with family and friends over the holidays, it is important to monitor our health for any symptoms of COVID-19 closely. Symptoms usually appear between two and fourteen days after exposure to the virus. People with COVID-19 have reported a variety of mild to severe symptoms, but some of the most common include: 

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
Should I take an at-home test following my holiday celebrations?

COVID-19 self-tests, home tests, or over-the-counter (OTC) tests are one way to reduce your risk of spreading COVID-19. These tests are now readily available to the public, are easy to use, and produce rapid results. Test kits are available at Ely Community Pharmacy. You should test if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms regardless of vaccination status. 

What do the results of my self-test mean?

A positive test means that the virus was detected in your body, and you are very likely to have an infection. You should stay home for ten days, wear a mask if you come in contact with others, and avoid gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to someone else. Talk to your doctor to let them know you tested positive and decide whether additional testing is necessary. If your illness becomes worse, seek medical attention right away. Finally, inform any of your close contacts that they may have been exposed. A person with COVID-19 can begin spreading it two days before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. A negative test means that the virus was not detected, and you still may or may not have COVID-19 but likely are not contagious. 

Should I avoid the Emergency Room since hospitals are full?

If you are experiencing new or concerning symptoms, you should always seek medical care regardless of the capacity of the hospital or whether there is a pandemic or not. Research has shown that patients who have delayed care for new and concerning symptoms could have quite advanced disease such as heart attack, stroke, appendicitis, and heart failure, by the time they go to the hospital. These all could potentially have been prevented with early treatment.

Emergency rooms are required by law to stabilize and treat anyone who comes into the hospital seeking medical attention. Emergency rooms across the nation, including EBCH, have created policies to address high numbers of patients and COVID-19 safety protocols. Among these policy changes are updates to PPE for health care workers, visitation policies, universal masking, and screenings for injury and illness.

It is critical to seek care for any symptoms, including pain and loss of function, that are new and concerning. If you're unsure if your symptoms are serious enough for a trip to the ER, your primary care office or nurse advice line are good resources to connect with. A medical care setting will have the best infection control, PPE, and universal masking policies in place. EBCH is always ready and able to address your medical concerns in the safest environment possible. 

What is vaccine shaming?

Vaccine shaming is the practice of making others feel guilty or ashamed for their medical choice of whether or not to get vaccinated. It is important to remember that everyone is an individual and has their reason for getting, or not getting, immunized against COVID-19. When talking with people about the vaccine, it is important to be respectful and encourage conversation. Most people won't change their minds in response to being shamed. However, they may be willing to listen if they can express their concerns and know that someone understands their fear or anger.

If, for whatever reason, you are unable to be vaccinated against COVID-19, there are still ways to help protect yourself and others from contracting and spreading COVID-19: 

  • Wear a mask when in public settings
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer
  • Socially distance at least 6 feet from others when in a social setting
Do they test for variants when someone gets a COVID-19 test?

Standard COVID-19 tests don't tell you whether you have a variant. Variants are identified when scientists at the state's public health lab pull a certain percentage of patients' tests for further examination to see what variants may be in the state. Enough samples are reviewed to create a clear picture of which variant is causing the infection and to watch how the virus changes. Results from the variant tests are not shared with patients or their doctors because even if you have a variant, the steps are the same: quarantine or isolation. 

Can I get a variant if I have already had COVID-19?

Yes, you can get a variant, but if you have had COVID-19, you might have some natural protection for a period of time. However, your chance of getting a variant increases because the mutations are different from the initial infection, so natural immunity may not always be able to prevent illness. On top of natural immunity, getting vaccinated will increase antibodies to give you the best chance at stopping variant infections. 

What do I need to know about the Omicron variant?

In November, a new variant was found in random samplings of COVID-19 tests collected in South Africa, and the World Health Organization labeled it Omicron. The first confirmed case of Omicron was identified in the United States in December and has since been identified in nearly twenty states, including Minnesota. At this time, we don't know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well our current vaccines and medications will work. Our current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection from the Omicron variant. To help prevent the spread of Omicron, continue practicing social distancing, get vaccinated, and wear a mask. 

What is “close contact”?

Close contact means someone with COVID-19 potentially exposed you to the virus. In general, close contact means being less than 6 feet from someone for 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period. However, these are guidelines; the longer you are close to someone who has COVID-19, the more likely you will get the virus. 

What does it mean to quarantine or isolate?

The simplest answer is – stay home. Staying home means not going to work, school, the grocery store, or any other place outside the house except for testing or medical appointments. Whenever possible, separate yourself from other people in your home; stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. If possible, use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household. If you are not fully vaccinated and had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you need to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. If you develop symptoms during that time, get tested immediately and begin isolation.  

If you are fully vaccinated and had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you do NOT need to quarantine unless you develop symptoms. You should get tested within 5-7 days after exposure with or without symptoms. If you test positive at this point, you need to begin isolation. 

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

Both terms mean that you should stay home and away from others. The difference is whether you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have already tested positive for the virus.

Quarantine: Staying home and away from others when you might have been exposed to the virus. 

Isolation: Staying home and away from others when you test positive, feel sick, or have symptoms of the virus.

How bad is COVID-19 in our community right now?

Currently, the number of positive cases is close to the levels we experienced during last year's peak. It is extremely important to follow the guidelines to keep ourselves and our families and friends safe with the holidays approaching.

  • Wear masks
  • Wash hands
  • Socially distance
  • Get vaccinated or get the booster

If you are experiencing symptoms, get tested immediately.

If your symptoms are severe or affecting your breathing, seek medical attention.

If our hospital is completely full, why can't we transfer people to another hospital?

COVID-19 positivity rates are high across the state of Minnesota. Hospital resources statewide are at a critical level. This includes bed and human resource availability. There must be staff available to care for the patients in beds. This lack of staffing is a crisis across the nation.

What is happening with surgery at EBCH?

Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital has decided to suspend scheduling any elective surgeries for the time being. Medically necessary surgeries will be scheduled and performed as needed. If you currently have a surgery scheduled, our Surgery Team will be contacting you with complete details. We expect this change to last until mid-December.

I tested positive for COVID-19; now what?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you need to:

  • Go directly to your home and stay there
  • Isolate yourself in your home from anyone else who lives with you
  • Wear a mask any time you come in contact with someone else

Isolation means that people infected with COVID-19 stay at home and are kept away from others living in the home to prevent giving them COVID-19. If possible, you should stay in a separate room, use separate bathrooms, and do not share personal household items such as towels, cups, or toiletries.

When does isolation end?

You can be around people ten days after the onset of your symptoms and when you are free of symptoms for 24 hours without using medication to reduce your fever.

If you tested positive but did not have symptoms, you are safe to be around others ten days after your positive test 

What is monoclonal antibody therapy?

Monoclonal antibody therapy helps prevent hospitalizations and lessens the severity of symptoms from COVID-19. This therapy relies on a type of antibodies that are similar to the ones your body would naturally make in response to infection. They give the immune system a chance to catch up until it can form its own strong response.

Some people who test positive for COVID-19 may qualify for an IV infusion treatment. Treatment must be given within ten days of the onset of symptoms. If you test positive, you should contact your primary care provider right away to see if treatment is an option for you.  

When should I get a COVID-19 test?

It is still very important to get tested to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Whether or not you are fully vaccinated, you should immediately get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Symptoms include; headache, fatigue, body aches, fever, chills, or shortness of breath. 

If you have been exposed to an individual who tests positive, the recommendations change slightly:

  • If you are fully vaccinated – get tested 3-5 days after the exposure.
  • If you are not fully vaccinated – get tested immediately, and if that test is negative, get tested again in 3-5 days. 
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the last dose in your series.  Anyone who got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine would be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose. If you received the Johnson & Johnson, full vaccination is two weeks after the single dose. 

How do I know if I have been exposed?

If you have recently been in close contact with an individual that tests positive for COVID-19, you may have been exposed, which means that you were within 6 feet of that individual for 15 minutes or more.

Why should I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines may prevent serious respiratory illness caused by COVID-19. The latest data shows that fully vaccinated people are 15 times less likely to be hospitalized and 30 times less likely to die from COVID-19. The vaccines may also keep you from spreading the virus to others, including loved ones or vulnerable people in your community.  

Can there be side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines?

There can be side effects for some people who get the COVID-19 vaccine, but they are far less dangerous than getting the virus for most people.

Common side effects are:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling of the arm where you got your shot
  • Fatigue, fever, headache, or muscle pain that may last a day or two

These side effects are signs that the body is forming protection against COVID-19. 

I am fully vaccinated. Do I need to get the booster shot?

Most vaccinations require a booster to maintain their strength. The COVID-19 vaccine is no different. A booster shot can provide more antibodies to prevent serious illness and slow the spread of COVID-19.

 
Right now, booster shots are available for the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for people who meet the following criteria: 

  • Individuals over the age of 65
  • Individuals over the age of 18 who live in long-term care facilities
  • Individuals over the age of 18 who have underlying health concerns
  • Individuals over the age of 18 who live or work in high-risk settings
  • Individuals who received their original doses more than six months ago

Anyone older than 18 who received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine qualifies for a second  booster dose two months following their first dose. 

When should I be wearing a mask?

Due to the highly contagious Delta variant, it is recommended that fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear their masks in the following settings:

  • Indoor businesses and crowded settings
  • Crowded outdoor public locations in areas with higher transmission rates
  • Schools, healthcare settings, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities 

It is also recommended for immunocompromised poeple or people who live with, or frequently interact with someone who is immunocompromised, to mask up anytime they interact with anyone outside their home. 

Why does wearing a mask help stop the spread of COVID-19?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly spread by respiratory droplets when people breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. Wearing a well-fitted mask helps to stop these droplets from spreading to others. Wearing a mask is important because nearly 40-50% of people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms. Even without symptoms, you can still spread the virus. Wearing a mask is only ONE factor in stopping the spread of COVID-19. You should still follow all recommendations, including staying home if you are sick unless you need medical care, socially distance by staying 6 feet from others and washing your hands often. By following these recommendations, you can provide an extra layer of protection against getting and spreading COVID-19.