The Omicron variant has been driving up cases of COVID-19 in King County since it was first identified in December. Soon, we will likely surpass the highest daily total seen throughout the entire pandemic. Our hospital ERs and ICUs are already near full, so even if just a fraction of these cases end up in the hospital, it could overload our already stressed healthcare system.
Our hospitals have limited resources, like ICU beds and ventilators, and limited staff to care for patients. If they get flooded with COVID cases, critical resources won’t be available to handle all the daily emergencies, like injuries from car collisions and people having heart attacks.
How can we keep emergency healthcare from becoming overwhelmed? How can we make sure lifesaving treatment is available when we need it most?
Get vaccinated and boosted
Getting vaccinated—whether you are starting with your first dose, completing your primary series with a second dose, or ready for your booster shot—is the single most important thing you can do to prevent hospitalization from COVID-19.
It’s true that, with Omicron, there will be more breakthrough infections in people who have been vaccinated or who’ve already had COVID-19. But the vaccine is still effective for what matters most: preventing severe illness. And that will keep vaccinated people out of the hospital.
Learn more about what else you can do to prevent infection from Omicron and all COVID-19 variants.
When to care for yourself or others at home
We are likely to reach our peak of daily cases in King County within days, so we can expect to see more illness, especially among unvaccinated people. Vaccinated people, even if they test positive, may not have any symptoms at all or symptoms may be mild. If they do feel sick, most of those illnesses will be manageable at home and won’t require a visit to the hospital or ER.
If you do get milder symptoms, like cough, fever, sore throat, chills, or a new loss of taste or smell, you can care for the illness at home. This holds true whether you might have COVID-19, the flu, or a common cold. So even if you get a positive COVID test, you don’t need to seek medical care if your symptoms aren’t severe.
How to care for COVID-19 at home
- Choose one person in the household to be the main caretaker. This person should be vaccinated and boosted for their own protection. They should wear a high quality, well fitting mask (such as N95/KN95/KF94) when caring for someone. Since they will be exposed to coronavirus, plan for a way for them to get tested.
- Make sure the sick person gets plenty of rest.
- Use over-the-counter medication for fever, sore throat, and general discomfort.
- Encourage the sick person to drink liquids (water, broth, herbal tea, juice, etc.).
- Offer small amounts of fluid frequently, even if they do not feel thirsty.
- If the sick person is not eating solid food, give fluids that contain sugars and salts, such as Pedialyte® or Lytren® (undiluted), broth, or sports drinks (diluted half and half with water).
Learn more about how to care for the illness at home.
Seek medical advice, if needed:
Connect by phone with your healthcare provider or a nurse consulting line, especially if the sick person is age 60 or older or is at risk for severe illness because of a medical condition (examples: diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or a weakened immune system). If you have COVID concerns and do not have a healthcare provider, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center between 8 a.m.–7 p.m. at 206-477-3977.
- Pay attention to the symptoms. If the symptoms get worse, call a healthcare provider for guidance.
- Watch for emergency signs. Call 9-1-1 if the sick person has:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Unusual feelings of confusion or not able to respond
- Lips or face have a blue or purple tint
- Need help finding a doctor or getting health insurance? Call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP) at 1-800-756-5437 or the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
- About the Omicron variant: Public Health leaders urge public to prepare now for rapid surge in local COVID-19 Omicron cases
- Caring for COVID-19 at home: How to care for yourself or others with COVID-19 – King County
- Getting vaccinated: Getting vaccinated in King County – King County
Contributor Meredith Li-Vollmer is a risk communications specialist at Public Health—Seattle & King County.
Originally published in Public Health Insider on December 22, 2021.