COVID testing

Cars wait in line for COVID-19 testing in Herriman, Monday, Jan. 03, 2022.

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Ask Utah experts and health officials how best to avoid the coronavirus amid a recent surge in cases, and their answers seem contradictory.

Students who have been exposed to COVID-19 can still report to classrooms. But one University of Utah Health doctor recommended against dine-in meals at restaurants, for now.

Officials also encourage Utahns to wear masks in public. But not all masks are effective as others against the omicron variant.

As recommendations change, here is what experts interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune want you to know:

Current mask guidance

Any mask is better than no mask, according to Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases physician with University of Utah Health.

“If you’re outside and you’re in a group, a cloth mask is probably going to be sufficient,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said. “But if you’re going to be indoors and there’s going to be a number of people there, cloth masks probably aren’t going to be sufficient in terms of protecting you from omicron.”

Any mask you wear should fit well, sitting snugly on your face with no gaps, Spivak and Stenehjem said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance on where to find masks and how to wear them properly, advising that an N95 mask offers the most filtration.

But practically speaking, Stenehjem noted that not everybody is going to to be able to get hold of an N95, and “not everybody’s going to be able to tolerate an N95.”

“They’re really tight-fitting, and they’re hard to wear for prolonged periods of time,” Stenehjem continued. “And so I think the biggest focus should be on a well-fitted, decently ventilated mask.”

Dr. Leisha Nolen, a state epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health, also noted that it is important that N95 masks remain available for health care workers.

“There are different levels of masks, and it’s sort of, the higher you can get, the better protection you have,” Nolen said.

That could be a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of it, Stenehjem said — surgical masks offer adequate filtration, and cloth masks tend to fit more snugly.

A KN95 is also a good option, Nolen said, though Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp reiterated that “any mask you have available and are willing to wear consistently and properly is better than no mask.”

What to do if you test positive

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should isolate at home for at least five days after being tested, even if you don’t have symptoms and even if your symptoms start to subside.

That’s according to new guidelines released Monday by the Utah Department of Health, which followed recently updated guidelines from the CDC.

After those initial five days, you can leave home if your symptoms have improved and you have not had a fever — without medicine — for at least 24 hours. But wear a mask around others for another five days after isolating at home, the guidance states.

“We know, even with the previous variants, sometimes there were a few days after people’s symptoms went away, and they still could infect others,” Nolen, the state epidemiologist, said.

If you still have a fever or other symptoms after those initial five days of isolation, you should stay home longer, Spivak said.

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aim to inform readers across the state. To read the full article, click here.

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