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John Foster, M.D.

The Taos Community Medical COVID Task Force is a volunteer coalition of local healthcare providers and community partners working to build collaborations to strengthen our local medical response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In this column, local healthcare providers will be answering common questions about COVID-19 in our community. If you have a question that you would like to submit, please email it to info@taoscovidtaskforce.com. Also, please check out taoscovidtaskforce.com for the latest medical information about COVID-19 in Taos.

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

The first thing to do is to self-isolate, so you don't spread the infection to others. This means not going out in public and avoiding close contact with your own household members as much as possible. This self-isolation should be kept up until at least 10 days have passed and symptoms have improved.

COVID typically progresses in stages. Many people don't have symptoms at first, and some never develop symptoms (but they can still spread it to others). For those who do get symptoms, the first week is typically flu-like, with some combination of fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat, gastrointestinal symptoms or loss of taste or smell. Most then recover, but around the second week a few go on to develop more severe illness that can lead to hospitalization or death.

Fortunately, there is now a treatment (monoclonal antibodies) that has been shown to dramatically lower the chance of a person going on to that more severe stage of illness.

If you test positive for COVID-19, and you have risk factors to develop severe disease, it is very important to talk to a health care provider ASAP, because you may be a candidate for this treatment.

For this treatment to work, it must be given in that early phase of illness, before you get sick enough to need additional oxygen. Some risk factors for severe disease include age over 65, age over 55 with heart disease, high blood pressure, or COPD, or age over 12 with obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, suppressed immune system or asthma requiring daily medication.

What are monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 anyway?

Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies like what your own body makes to fight off an infection. "Monoclonal" just means that they are identical to each other, rather than being a mixture of antibodies against multiple different things. If a person who has been infected with COVID-19 gets monoclonal antibody treatment in that first stage of illness (before their immune system has had a chance to make its own antibodies), that gives the immune system a head start on fighting the infection. Studies have shown that getting monoclonal antibodies reduces the risk of needing further medical care or hospitalization for COVID-19 by about 75 percent. There are three types of monoclonal antibodies currently available, and they are all given by a single infusion into the veins. They are available in Taos at Holy Cross Medical Center and currently the federal government covers the cost of the medication.

One other question: Is it really safe for kids to go back to school now?

That is a complicated question and depends on your individual risk tolerance. Is it safe to cross the street? Is it safe to go skydiving? Is it safe to drink sugary beverages? Different people will answer these questions differently. The risk of a child becoming ill with COVID-19 or passing it on to someone else in their family is not zero and may never be.

Preventing the spread of disease is all about taking steps to minimize risk and weighing the risk of activities like going to school, against the benefits. The risk of COVID spread in schools that have been open and taken safety precautions is typically lower than the risk of COVID spread in the community outside of school. Studies have shown that is it relatively rare for students to spread it to other students at school.

Another factor to weigh is that children are much less likely than adults to get severe illness from COVID. As of March 17, over 517,000 people in the US have died of COVID-19 and only 273 of those were under age 19. Also, many Taos County residents over age 75 and those with high-risk medical conditions have now been vaccinated, which lowers the risk of children passing the infection onto family members who could become extremely sick with COVID. The risk is not zero and we need to continue precautions such as masking, distancing, and hand-washing, both in school and in the community.

Dr. John Foster is a hospitalist at Holy Cross Medical Center. He has been an active member of the Taos Community Medical COVID Task Force since the beginning of the pandemic.

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