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Asymptomatic vs. ignoring COVID symptoms | Expert breaks down important difference

"People are misinterpreting, if they don't test and get a positive result, then they must not have it. And that's not true." said Dr. Jayne Morgan.

ATLANTA — As folks learn to live with COVID, they may run into more COVID deniers. In this case, it's not people who deny COVID exists, but people who deny they themselves have COVID.

Because symptoms can range from none to extreme, some folks may find themselves resisting getting a COVID test because they “feel fine.”

But experts remind us there is a difference between asymptomatic - meaning no symptoms at all - being unaware you have COVID and having minor symptoms and denying you may have COVID. 

Why is that distinction important? Because it can mean the difference between someone putting others purposefully at risk for a COVID infection.

Dr. Jayne Morgan, Executive Director of the COVID task force for Piedmont Healthcare System said she’s experienced people denying they have COVID in her daily work.

“I think people are misinterpreting, if they don't test and get a positive result, then they must not have it. And that's not true,” Dr. Morgan began. “And that continues to drive this pandemic and drive infections, because people are unwilling sometimes to get tested and then they continue to move through society in a normal way.”

It’s not to say all people who deny having COVID may not have a valid reason. Some can’t afford to take off work. Others may not have easy access to tests or may have other illnesses or chronic pain that makes it difficult to tell the difference between their morning allergies or daily migraine and a COVID infection.

But during this age of omicron, Dr. Morgan said it’s highly important to assume those symptoms are because of the virus and to go ahead and get a test.

“You have to assume that all of these flu-like symptoms are actually COVID. And people often avoid the test so that they can avoid the accountability,” said Dr. Morgan. “You should assume that you are positive unless you can prove that you are not.”

Omicron is more contagious and infectious, meaning ignoring the tiniest COVID symptoms to move about life as normal is not recommended. Dr. Morgan added, ignorance is bliss, but it also puts others at risk.

“You can kind of assuage your guilt and provide some justification. The mind is a funny thing, we can justify things but it’s allowing us to move forward in a way that may not really be ethically responsible. We see this with the airlines. People aware they are symptomatic when they are boarding their flight, especially to return home. But they do not want to test before they get home because they don’t want to be quarantined in another state or another location. So, they wait until they get home, and they test, and they test positive at the time.”

Get a test no matter how minor the symptoms or if you have no symptoms and you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID, Dr. Morgan advised. Also, trust your instincts. 

If you took an at-home test and test negative and have symptoms or want a second opinion, retest.

“If you’re early on in your infection, (an at-home test) could be a false negative. So, you might want to get a second or third test the next day or day after to make certain your viral load is not increasing.”

Omicron symptoms can range from a sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle pain, dry cough, runny nose, headache, fever, fatigue and loss of taste or smell. A person could have one symptom, or all. Experts remind people it’s important not to manifest symptoms by letting your anxiety reach a level where you magnify every little ache or sneeze.

The only way to know if you are COVID positive is to get a test (or two) and to take precautions like quarantining and wearing a tight-fitting mask until you get a negative result.

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