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Omicron surge, limited testing causes issues for some Hoosiers

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You’ve got all the common symptoms of the flu: a runny nose, chills and a slight cough. In pre-pandemic times, you might not think much of it. However, in the wake of COVID-19, particularly its highly contagious variant, omicron, it may leave you anticipating the worst. Due to the similarity of symptoms between the flu and COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested and quarantining until you get a negative COVID-19 result.

“With COVID, you can have about the same symptoms as the flu, so it can be really hard to tell,” Dr. Tamika Dawson of Indiana University Health Physicians Family and Sports Medicine said in a previous interview with the Recorder. “Testing is really important.”

Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are very similar. Experts say the only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is by getting tested. (Graphic/Breanna Cooper)

Finding a rapid COVID-19 test, however, may be easier said than done. New restrictions put in place by the Indiana State Department of Health — due to limited availability of rapid tests — only allow anyone under 18 and symptomatic individuals over 50 to get a rapid test. Rapid tests deliver results between 30 minutes to an hour, while lab tests yield results roughly two to three days after testing.

Mark Bell, a waiter, developed symptoms of COVID-19 on Jan. 6. At 34, he didn’t qualify for a rapid COVID-19 test, and he didn’t feel well enough to wait in line for a test. Following CDC guidelines, he waited five days before returning to work.

“Weekends are usually the best times for me, money wise, because we have more people coming in,” Bell said. “I was off work for four days, three weekend nights. I usually can pay my rent using weekend tips.”

Ebony Chappel waited in line for hours Dec. 29 to get a test at a drive-thru facility. While she has the ability to work from home and manage her own schedule, Chappel said too many Hoosiers don’t have that flexibility.

“This isn’t feasible for anyone who works an hourly wage job or doesn’t have child care,” Chappel said. “Being able to go get tested is a luxury. It’s a luxury to be able to piss off three hours of your day just to get tested, not to mention the travel time.”

Chappel said she wants to see a concerted effort from organizations and local elected officials to provide easier access to testing and masks.

“It’s a critical need in our community,” Chappel said. “I’m scared for people that don’t have money, like if I was in the position I was before in the service industry, this would be incredibly hard. That’s the reality of a lot of people right now, who just don’t have the time or resources to take care of themselves.”

The omicron surge comes at a time when flu cases in Indiana are rising. For the last two years, masks and business closures led to low rates of the flu. However, with lax mask restrictions and most businesses reopened to full capacity, health experts expect to see more flu cases in 2022. On average, roughly 100 Hoosiers die of the flu every year, with cases spiking around March and April.

“Not only do we have omicron going around, it’s the time of year when everyone gets sick anyway,” Bell said.

With COVID-19 tests hard to come by and symptoms virtually indistinguishable from the flu, it’s important to stop the spread of both viruses. Dawson said masks are the most effective way to stop the spread of both illnesses.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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