With tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases confirmed in recent days and thousands more believed to be unreported, there's a chance that you could be exposed to someone who has the disease.
What should you do if you are exposed? Protocols for quarantine and testing are in place, said Aileen Espina, a doctor of family medicine and member of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19.
First off, Espina advised the public against dismissing COVID symptoms as the flu. Those who have symptoms must quarantine and get tested if needed.
"'Yung ganitong pag-iisip po, 'yun po ang iiwasan natin sa ngayon po na sobrang dami ng kaso dito sa NCR at dumadami na rin po sa iba't ibang parte ng Pilipinas," she told TeleRadyo on Thursday.
What is a close contact?
The World Health Organization defines a close contact as a person who was exposed to a COVID-positive patient. It is classified into three: first-, second-, and third-generation.
According to Espina, a person is considered first generation if they had face-to-face contact with a probable or confirmed case less than one meter (three feet), interacting for more than 15 minutes without face masks in a poorly ventilated area.
A person is called second-generation close contact if exposed to the first generation. Those exposed to the second generation are called third generation. These people are advised to self monitor in case of symptoms.
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When should a close contact undergo quarantine?
If a person is a close contact and has symptoms, they should go into quarantine right away, Espina said. Immediately assume that any symptom, no matter how mild, could be COVID-19.
"Kadalasan sa Pinoy 'pag may nararamdamang mild lang, 'pag keribels lang, 'di natin pinapansin. Nagbibigay tayo ng rason na baka napagod lang ako," she said.
"'Pag meron po kayong naramdamang sintomas na hindi n'yo nararamdaman nung ibang araw, kahit gaano po siya ka-mild -- pangangati ng lalamunan, pananakit ng katawan, sumakit ang ulo, namamalat -- isipin n'yo po agad, ako ba ay may COVID?"
A fully-vaccinated close contact who has symptoms should quarantine for seven days. The day they first experienced symptoms is day zero, Espina said. For instance, if you first monitored symptoms on Jan. 12, you should isolate until Jan. 19.
Those who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated with symptoms should quarantine for at least 10 days, she said.
When should a close contact get tested?
Close contacts without symptoms should wait for symptoms to develop before testing especially when using antigen tests, Espina said. Antigen tests are best administered on people with symptoms between the third and fifth day of onset of symptoms, she said.
"Ang antigen test po ay epektibo to detect the presence of the virus among people with symptoms. Mas mataas po ang tinatawag naming positive predictive value o kakayahan ng test na makapag-detect kung ikaw po ay may sintomas."
"Pero po kung negative kayo at meron kayong sintomas, huwag po kayong kumpiyansa," she said, urging them to isolate and monitor their symptoms.
If a person is fully vaccinated, not considered high risk, and without symptoms but tested positive for COVID-19 using antigen tests, they should isolate and undergo RT-PCR test to confirm.
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How to properly quarantine at home
Home quarantine is allowed for confirmed COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms if they satisfy the following requirements, according to DOH:
- Separate room for isolation
- Separate toilet for isolation
- Room is well-ventilated
- With a helper to cater to their needs while on quarantine
The WHO said people who have moderate to critical symptoms or are considered high risk are not eligible for home isolation.
For those who are experiencing mild symptoms, fully vaccinated, and are not considered high-risk individuals, they could stay at home even when sharing the toilet with non-COVID patients as long as the patient disinfects the area after using it, said Espina.
If the COVID-positive patient needs to go to the common area, other household members should vacate the area first. "Kung 'di po talaga mapigilan, puwede po tayo mag-mask sa loob ng bahay," she said.