Cold or Covid-19: When to See a Doctor

Grecia Villafuerte, Contributor

What doctors want you to know during this flu season.

As Bay Area residents approach their second winter during the COVID-19 pandemic many questions still remain one being: Will medical attention from a primary physician be available to tend to the needs of flu season or will patients be sent straight to the emergency rooms?

With vaccines widely available to the public and counties like Santa Clara and San Francisco and surrounding areas having 75% of their population fully vaccinated, the concern with flu season lingers in the minds of Bay Area residents.

“I am fully vaccinated and take all precautions surrounding this pandemic, but once I got sick with a cold, I was sent to the emergency room instead of seeing my doctor,” Alejandra Miranda explained. Miranda is a Bay Area resident who is concerned about flu season.

Miranda’s concern is commonly shared with other patients since the beginning of the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in June 2020 about 41% of U.S. adults reported delayed or avoided medical care during the pandemic.

However, patients are not the only ones suffering during these troubling times, for primary care physicians the pandemic has resulted in a limbo of stress and uncertainty. A survey conducted in July 2020 by the Physicians Foundations reported 8% of doctors “closing their offices in recent months” and 4% “planned to shutter within the year.”

“Most of my colleagues and I have experienced a decrease in patients because they fear we will send them to the emergency room or turn them back because of fear of COVID-19,” Dr. Edmundo Ruiz Davila discussed, a family practice physician with 40 years of experience.

Research shows that typical flu symptoms like fever, cough, and muscle aches are also common in COVID-19 and as the pandemic progresses, symptoms vary more widely than the flu with about 45% of COVID cases not reporting symptoms at all.

“If you feel any symptom whether you believe is a cold or COVID-19 you need to seek medical attention, as doctors we will make sure to provide you with the best options for your needs,” Dr. Susan Hsu said, a physician for the Washington Medical Foundation.“My patients’ health is my priority and it’s concerning to hear that people fear getting turned down by their primary care physician during this troubling times,” Hsu added.

Although patients may feel discouraged to seek medical attention for fear of contracting COVID-19 or being turned away by their health provider, the CDC recommends calling ahead of your medical visit. If you have scheduled a previous medical appointment that cannot be postponed, call your doctor’s office and tell them that you’re unsure if you have COVID-19 or not, as this will help the doctor’s office proceed with the course of treatment and keep everyone safe.

Getting tested for COVID-19 is another way patients can rule out the possibility of becoming infected and seek medical attention with less fear, according to the CDC.

Another valuable tool available to patients during the pandemic is Telehealth. This allows patients and doctors to have virtual appointments without the need for patients to visit a clinic. “Although telehealth appointments do not feel like a regular checkup, they help and guide us to help you if you have a preexisting condition or even if you just have a cold without exposing you or ourselves,” Ruiz Davila added.

Even through the risk of having in person visits, physicians are willing to meet their patients if needed. “As a doctor, if I see a patient needs my help I won’t turn them down, even when telehealth is available. If I consider they need to be seen in my office I will encourage a visit because your health is first,” Ruiz Davila added.

Whether it is a minor cold or COVID-19 it is important that patients and doctors establish a bond of trust and communication. Doctors explained that they are available for their patients in more than one way, to accommodate every need and provide us with the best quality treatment possible.