Testing is a crucial way of helping contain the spread of the Omicron variant.
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Isabella Grullón Paz, Dani Blum, Nicole Stock, Tara Parker-Pope and
The United States is in the midst of a case spike averaging more than 300,000 new cases a day for the first time in the pandemic as holiday gatherings and travel coupled with the proliferation of the highly transmissible Omicron variant have propelled a surge across the country.
On Dec. 30, there was a daily average of 378,516 positive coronavirus cases, a 201 percent increase in the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Daily counts increased by 100,000 or more on three days running in the last week. Hospitalizations rose 25 percent in two weeks.
As the Omicron variant speeds through communities around the country, many more people, including those who have been vaccinated, will test positive for the coronavirus. Some projections forecast millions of new cases in the next week.
Here’s what you should know:
Some symptom differences between Omicron and other variants have emerged from preliminary data, but experts are not certain they are meaningful. Data released from South Africa suggest that South Africans with Omicron often develop a scratchy or sore throat along with nasal congestion, a dry cough and muscle pain, especially low back pain.
Meanwhile, the Delta variant is still spreading as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common Covid symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache, a loss of the sense of taste or smell and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
If you are feeling sick, get tested immediately.
You can be infected without showing symptoms, and could spread the virus to others, even if you are vaccinated. It is always better to get tested for the coronavirus, especially to try to halt the spread of Omicron. Given the high spread rates in recent weeks, if you have gone to a large gathering it is probably better to get tested.
The current guidance from the C.D.C. says vaccinated people don’t have to quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who has Covid, but that they should get tested five days later. Testing experts, however, say that’s probably not soon enough for Omicron, whose incubation period may be as short as 72 hours. Experts say that the best times to test are on Days 2, 3 and 4 after exposure.
There are several testing options. You can test at home with a rapid test purchased from a pharmacy, or you can go get a P.C.R. test at a lab.
If you tested positive after taking a rapid home test, you may want to take a second home test using a different brand or go to a testing center to confirm the result.
If you’re in public or around people when you receive the news, put on a mask immediately. Then isolate yourself as quickly as possible, even if you don’t have symptoms.
The latest Covid data in the U.S. As the Omicron surge caused case counts to reach record highs and hospitalizations to surpass last winter’s peak, here’s what the data suggests about the variant’s potential toll. Reports of falling infection rates in parts of the U.S., meanwhile, hint that a national peak may be approaching.
The U.S. Covid response. President Biden announced that the U.S. government would deploy military personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals and buy 500 million more tests for distribution to Americans, doubling its previous purchase. Americans will be able to order free rapid tests online beginning Jan. 15.
Around the world. Some European countries have changed their approach to the virus to more closely align with how they handle the flu. Public health experts say the shift might be premature. Outbreaks in China weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics underscored the challenges of holding the Games while sticking to a “zero Covid” policy.
Staying safe. Worried about spreading Covid? Keep yourself and others safe by following some basic guidance on when to test and how to use at-home virus tests (if you can find them). Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus.
Last week, the C.D.C slashed the isolation period from 10 to five days for those without symptoms or those without fevers for 24 hours whose other symptoms were resolving.
Americans leaving isolation should wear masks around others for an additional five days after their isolation periods have ended, officials said.
Some experts, though, have called the new guidelines “reckless” and have suggested to isolate for longer.
To calculate your isolation window, the C.D.C. advises that you consider Day 1 to be the first full day after you develop symptoms. If you didn’t have symptoms, Day 1 is the first full day after your positive test.