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Steer clear of self-diagnosing COVID-19, self isolate and get tested, experts advise

Medical staff at ProHEALTH in Jericho test people

Medical staff at ProHEALTH in Jericho test people for COVID-19 on March 25. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

People checking themselves for COVID-19 symptoms, prompted by the President Donald Trump’s revelation that he tested positive, should err on the side of caution, experts said.

Fever, body aches, muscle pain and nasal congestion could signal the flu or COVID-19 or even a regular cold. But don’t try to figure it out yourself.

"If you have any symptoms, isolate yourself immediately and contact a physician," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital. "It could be by using telehealth. But take this seriously."

Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, director of critical care services at Northwell Health, agreed self-diagnosing was especially unwise as we were entering the start of flu season.

"That’s going to be one of our struggles in the hospital going forward," she said. "It is impossible to differentiate between the symptoms of flu and COVID-19."

People without symptoms may be concerned if they believe they have come in contact with a person who was infected. Narasimhan said it was important to get a doctor’s advice before seeking out a COVID-19 test.

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"You may have to isolate and wait two or three days," she said. "If you get tested too soon, you might show a false negative."

She said some people in high risk environments such as hospitals and schools might benefit from testing on a regular basis.

People seeking a COVID-19 test have a range of options on Long Island, from urgent care centers and pharmacies to free drive-thru centers at Jones Beach and Stony Brook sponsored by the state.

Long Island FQHC, which runs free COVID-19 testing clinics on Saturdays, was busy with requests, according to David Nemiroff, its president and chief executive.

It’s not clear whether any increase is linked to the announcement that both the president and first lady Melania Trump tested positive.

"Our two testing sites are booked to capacity for tomorrow and yes we are getting more calls for testing," said Nemiroff. "If folks walk in, we will try to accommodate."

Bonnie Simmons, chair of urgent care at ProHEALTH, said it was too soon to tell if there had been an increase in requests for tests at its urgent care centers since the news broke.

"We have seen an uptick with children going back to school, people going back to work, people wanting to travel and airlines requesting a negative test before flying," she said.

Glatt urged people to take the threat of COVID-19 infection seriously, saying no one is immune and even young patients can experience very serious medical complications.

"There is an increase in COVID-19 in New York and on parts of Long Island," Glatt said. "It’s critically important for people to understand you can’t always tell if someone is at risk by looking for them. Please mask and socially distance."

COVID-19 symptoms

People who believe they have been infected with COVID-19, should do the following:

• Look for symptoms that include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell and sore throat. The CDC has a coronavirus self-checker on its website.

• If you have any of these symptoms, reach out to a doctor for guidance on whether you should be tested for COVID-19.

• Diagnostic testing is available at pharmacies, urgent care centers and other locations. The state offers free testing at sites it operates at Jones Beach and Stony Brook Hospital. For locations and information call the NYS COVID-19 hotline at 888-364-3065. The state has a COVID-19 test site finder at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Health Department and Newsday research

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