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Published on August 09, 2021

You Had COVID-19: Now What?

You had COVID-19 - now what? Learn the next steps to take from Brent McQuaid, MD, in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.

Let’s review the numbers - how many people in our area have tested positive for COVID-19? What about the hospitalizations at Cone Health so far since March of 2020?

“We know in the Cone service area that we've had around 95,000 patients test positive… We've cared for over 6,000 inpatients, so of those 95,000, over 6,000 required hospitalization.”

Just recently, Cone Health lowered the number of visitors to patients in the main hospitals - not the other branches, but the main hospitals. Can you explain a little bit about why that is?

“Right now, we are going through what feels like almost a whole other pandemic. The delta variant of COVID-19 is incredibly infectious, and so while our community was able to enjoy a relative lull in new infections and we saw very few hospitalizations for several weeks to months, we're now seeing a big spike. And so you know, Cone’s committed to the safety of its patients its team members and the community members who come in and out. So because of that we've, had to restrict visitation to reduce the spread of this delta variant.”

Should those who have had COVID-19 get vaccinated?

“Yes, the recommendation from the CDC, from North Carolina and from Cone Health is that everyone gets vaccinated who's eligible, regardless of whether or not they've had COVID-19.”

If you've had COVID, can you get COVID again?

“It's very rare. The answer is yes. It has been reported, there are studies that have been very well designed that have shown that folks who had COVID-19 in the past did contract it again. The degree of certainty we have about how sick you get is fairly low from what I understand from reading the literature. Most people who have reinfection have minimal symptoms.”

If you've never had COVID and then you get it, how long do those symptoms last for folks?

“Again, it varies from host to host, but with what I do for a living – I'm a pulmonary and critical care doctor – I've seen people who've been hospitalized. Typically, the symptoms last for days to weeks. Most people I've spoken to in the community who've contracted it who are adults, not kids, they'll have symptoms for seven to ten days typically. And for what are the most common lingering symptoms – for the longest time, we heard about the no smell, no taste – I don't know if that's still the most common lingering symptom.”

“Uniformly, what we hear from most of our patients is fatigue. The fatigue from COVID is just something else. I mean, it makes people feel like they don't want to get up and do anything. It takes your appetite away, just your desire to get up and go is just completely sapped after you've had COVID. And in our experience, we see that last longer than just about anything else.”

What does it mean when someone talks about a COVID long-hauler?

“[A long-hauler] is an individual who will have symptoms that they did not have previous to contracting COVID-19 that persist for weeks to months after the infection. So typically, for most people, we would expect resolution of symptoms after contracting COVID-19 within about two to three weeks or so. Long-haulers are patients who have persistent symptoms that can last for weeks to months afterwards.”

Is there any kind of help for COVID long-haulers?

“Yes. There’s a number of patients in our community who've suffered from severe COVID-19 and have significant lung damage. I'm a pulmonary critical care doctor, I work for LeBauer Pulmonary and Critical Care, and our office actually sees patients with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms on a regular basis. We've developed quite a bit of experience with following them closely with things like lung-function testing, CT scans, checking their oxygen levels. Unfortunately, the number of patients that we have are growing in every week. However, our understanding of how to take care of folks with long-haul symptoms is proven.”

What should people do if they think that they are a COVID long-hauler?

“If you're around the six-week point and you still don't feel like yourself, make sure you're talking to your primary care doctor, and just let her or him know, ‘Hey, I still don't feel right.’ They may want to do some basic tests, like check some blood work or get a chest x-ray or check your oxygen level, but that's always the first step, is to go by your primary care doctor's office first.”

What advice do you have for someone who has recovered from COVID-19 who is figuring out what their new normal is?

“Generally, it's important in medicine for us to set expectations for patients and just let them know that it can take weeks to get better. The new normal - it's not going to come in the immediacy, right, you may want to get back to normal right away, but you may be fatigued for quite some time, you may have muscle weakness for quite some time. So setting those expectations that you're going to have that for weeks I think is very important. But then also encouraging people: don't slow down. It's really, really important to stay active, to eat a healthy diet, to keep going during that time so that your body can get stronger and eventually overcome the damage that COVID-19 caused.” 

Numbers are rising with the delta variant. For those who are still hesitant about getting the vaccine – what would you tell them?

“So again, what I do for a living is I'm a pulmonary critical care doctor. So the vast majority of my time is spent in ICUs, caring for people who are critically ill, and unfortunately in the last few weeks, it's been due to COVID-19 predominantly. I've put more patients on life support in the last week than I had for the relative two-to-three month period from April through June. We've put way more on lately, and the vast, vast, vast majority of patients that require that level of care are patients who are unvaccinated. We're talking 90-plus of our inpatient population is currently unvaccinated.”

“There's a lot of hesitancy that's out there, there's a lot of people that are nervous about the vaccine just because it came along so quickly. I think that it's sometimes helpful to talk to people in just basic common-sense numbers. Over the last year, I've helped care for thousands of patients with COVID-19 – again, we said we cared for 6,000 at Cone Health in the last year – I've cared for zero patients who've come in for complications of the vaccine. I mean, I think that the numbers themselves speak… We're not caring for people with severe complications from the vaccine, we know tens of thousands of people in our community have been vaccinated, and they're not coming into the hospital sick. But who we're caring for are those people who have COVID-19 and never got a vaccine in the first place.

You Had COVID-19: Now What?

2 Your Well-Being

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