With COVID-19 cases reaching record highs due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, state officials are encouraging Californians to review the basics when it comes to protecting against and preventing the spread of this deadly disease.
To answer the many questions on our minds — What should I do if I test positive? How effective are the vaccines against this new variant? Do I still need to wear a mask? — Dr. Kimberly Chang of Asian Health Services is here to provide some answers.
Q: What should I do if I test positive?
Dr. Kimberly Chang: If you test positive, whether you have symptoms or not, you should isolate until you feel better, and it is recommended to test negative before resuming day to day activities. You should sleep and stay in a separate room from those not infected and use a separate bathroom if you can. Wear a mask around others, even at home. And the people you live with should wear masks at home too. Get a test on day five or later. If you test negative, you may end isolation. If you are still positive or if you still have symptoms, continue to isolate until day 10. After you recover, wear a mask around others for five days and continue wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
Q: It seems like the rules for isolation and quarantine have changed? How do I know what to do?
K.C.: The California Department of Public Health Website lists the current rules for isolation and quarantine (https://covid19.ca.gov/get-tested/#when-to-isolate-or-quarantine). You can also visit the Website for your county department of public health (https://covid19.ca.gov/get-local-information/#County-websites).
Q: What should I do if I come into close contact to someone who tests positive?
K.C.: If you find out that you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should quarantine for five days. Count from the day you found out you were exposed. If you are fully vaccinated, including a booster shot if eligible, you can skip quarantine if you are symptom free. But still test on day five, and mask for 10 days. For those that are not fully vaccinated, wear a mask around others, even at home. Test on day five, and you can end your quarantine at that point if you test negative. After your quarantine is over, wear a mask around others for another five days.
Q: Did people who need to quarantine do something wrong?
K.C.: People who are quarantining are actually doing the RIGHT thing to protect others from potential infection. The pandemic impacts everyone in different ways, and people who need to quarantine should not feel guilty or stressed. They are following health guidance. Finishing any required quarantine is simply the responsible thing to do to help our families and community by preventing the spread of COVID-19. If anyone you know needs help to cope with the stress associated with COVID-19, the State of California offers resources for emotional support and well-being (https://covid19.ca.gov/resources-for-emotional-support-and-well-being).
Q: One of my employees was identified as a close contact to a positive person. What can I do?
K.C.: The good news is that if your employee is vaccinated and boosted or recently vaccinated, they can skip quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic. This is just another benefit of getting vaccinated and boosted when you are eligible. If they are not yet vaccinated, they should follow the rules for quarantine listed above.
Q: What is the best way to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to avoid serious illness?
K.C.: All Californians, regardless of vaccination status, should follow the five key safety basics to protect ourselves and each other:
• Get vaccinated and boosted as soon as eligible. Go to MyTurn.ca.gov to check schedule your appointment today. Individuals 12+ who received the Pfizer vaccine and individuals 18+ who received the Moderna vaccine are eligible for a booster five months after their initial full series was completed. Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients are encouraged to get boosted two months after their first vaccination.
• Wear a mask to help protect yourself and others. Along with vaccination, it is one of our strongest tools to stop the spread and protect others from severe illness. An N95, KN95 or KF94 mask provides the highest level of protection from COVID-19, a surgical mask provides good protection, and a cloth mask should be worn with a surgical mask on top.
• Stay home if you are sick and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms.
• Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
• Watch your distance in crowds, especially around our youngest children who are not yet vaccinated, those at risk and those unable to get the vaccine. Californians can go to www.COVID19.ca.gov for more information on COVID-19 and the latest public health guidelines.
For more about COVID-19, including guidance on masking (https://covid19.ca.gov/masks-and-ppe) and testing (https://covid19.ca.gov/get-tested), visit covid19.ca.gov. To schedule an appointment for a vaccination or a booster, visit MyTurn.ca.gov, or call 1-833-422-4255. Support is available in 200+ languages.
Kimberly S.G. Chang, MD, MPH, is a family physician at Asian Health Services (AHS) in Oakland, Calif. In 2015, Dr. Chang completed the Commonwealth Fund Minority Health Policy Fellowship at Harvard, examining the role of federally qualified health centers in addressing human trafficking. Previously, Dr. Chang was the inaugural clinic director at AHS’ Frank Kiang Medical Center and provided care for many commercially sexually exploited children. She was elected as the vice speaker of the House on the executive board of directors for the National Association of Community Health Centers in 2018 and appointed to the American Public Health Association Committee on Women’s Rights.