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Froedtert Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control talks about Omicron surge

Express corona test at home: Close up of fingers holding a negat
Patrick Daxenbichler
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Adobe Stock
Close up of antigen covid test, negative result.

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Health reported the highest number of cases in a single day since the pandemic began, with the state adding more than 10,000 cases per day on average.

With the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it’s more important than ever to observe health practices like hand washing well and often and mask-wearing.

Currently, there is no mask mandate for public, indoor spaces in the City of Milwaukee or Milwaukee County. However, masks are required at the Fiserv Forum, and a few restaurants like Odd Duck in Bay View require proof of vaccination to dine indoors.

With the rise of cases and the ease of the Omicron variant spreading, Dr. Mary Beth Graham says, "having everybody in masks is an appropriate thing to do."

Graham is the Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at Froedtert Hospital and Associate Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at the Medical College of Wisconsin. To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, Graham recommends getting the vaccine against COVID-19.

If needed, the City of Milwaukee Health Department offers a long list of walk-in and mobile clinics where the vaccine can be administered.

"[The vaccine] is thought and shown, in many instances, to decrease what we call morbidity mortality—less likely to go into the hospital, less likely to go into the ICU, less likely to die," says Graham.

As we've seen over the holiday season, many are scrambling to find at-home rapid tests, but there's still confusion about their accuracy vs. the PCR test, which can be found at testing sites and hospitals.

Graham points out that while at-home or antigen tests are not as sensitive to COVID-19 as the PCR test can be, they can still help detect higher virus concentrations.

She voices if a person is asymptomatic and has a negative antigen test it does not rule out COVID – but if they are symptomatic and have a positive test, then they should believe they have COVID. Graham emphasizes if you are symptomatic and have a negative antigen to get the PCR especially if at high risk of progression of disease.

Froedtert Hospital offers an extensive schedule and process for people looking to get PCR testing.

"It's reasonable to do that antigen test if those symptoms persist if that antigen test is negative, then seek out getting the PCR test for a confirmation to see, was that a true negative or a false negative, " says Graham.

While symptoms like shortness of breath can warrant a visit to the ER, Graham warns that other symptoms like a sore throat and headache should be taken care of at home or by a personal physician.

"You can go to urgent care centers but not the emergency room. The ER is just not the right place because we still have patients coming into the ER for multiple other things...heart attacks and strokes. There's a large number of patients coming in, and it would just overwhelm the system," says Graham.

Other precautions that can be taken include having a pulse oximeter handy, which is used to monitor oxygen levels.

There are also two oral medications for the treatment of COVID-19. If given within the first three days of symptoms, the treatment could help in warding off the virus's progression.

"There's very limited supply [of SARS COVID] medication in the state of Wisconsin, but really limited supply throughout the United States. They are reserved for people again, at highest risk of progression, who would have the highest complications, potentially from the disease," says Graham.

After looking at what is happening in South Africa and Great Britain, Graham says the surge could go on for several weeks before it eventually dips in cases.

Still, concerns remain over Delta's current presence and talks of a new strain found in France, Graham says.

"We just don't know, and I think that is frustrating for providers. It's incredibly frustrating for everybody in the community because it affects everyone. These last two years have been extremely frustrating," says Graham.

Corrected: January 14, 2022 at 11:01 AM CST
Previously, we wrote: "A person who is asymptomatic who takes the antigen test should believe their results. If a person tests negative at home but still has symptoms, taking a PCR test would be appropriate."

We've since corrected the line to reflect: "She voices if a person is asymptomatic and has a negative antigen test it does not rule out COVID – but if they are symptomatic and have a positive test, then they should believe they have COVID. Graham emphasizes if you are symptomatic and have a negative antigen to get the PCR especially if at high risk of progression of disease."

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