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Lee Health is now vaccinating anyone age 5+. Click here for adults and click here for age 5-17. Click here for a list of COVID testing sites in our community. Click here for information on monoclonal antibodies. 

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COVID-19 Catch-All: Avoid the ER for Tests, Use Free Telehealth and Essential Tips

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health

COVID-19 tips and info graphic

With COVID-19 cases rising nationwide, Lee Health wants to bring our community general reminders about vaccinations, COVID-19 safety, Emergency Department (ED) priorities, and other tidbits to help you and your family during this challenging time.

Lee Health and its infectious disease experts follow all scientific data and current recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Emergency rooms and urgent cares are not testing sites

Lee Health’s emergency departments and urgent care clinics are currently full because of demand for COVID-19 testing. Community members are facing long wait times because our ERs and urgent care clinics are NOT official COVID-19 testing sites.

We urge you to visit an approved testing site in our area if you are seeking a COVID-19 test.

Our ERs are still the place to go for life-threatening emergencies, and we give priority to patients who need the most urgent attention.

To find an approved testing site in our area, please CLICK HERE.

FREE TeleHealth

If you have COVID-19-like symptoms, we urge you to use Lee Health’s FREE 24/7 Lee TeleHealth service. This convenient service not only will save you time and ease your stress, but will also keep ERs clear for medical emergencies.

Your TeleHealth care provider will evaluate the severity of your symptoms and make recommendations for testing, isolation and symptom management. They can also write prescriptions and make additional referrals, as necessary.

You can download the Lee Health app to find the TeleHealth portal or visit LeeTeleHealth.

Beyond COVID-19 concerns, patients using the TeleHealth service can seek treatment and receive a prescription for a variety of conditions, including:

  • Cold and flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Rashes
  • Pink eye
  • Headaches
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Allergies
  • Cough
  • Sprains and strains

Every visit is encrypted to protect private information, and patients can expect the same level of care they would receive in a traditional doctor’s office.

Vaccine availability and encouragement

Lee Health is now vaccinating children ages 5 and older. According to the CDC and our infectious disease experts, vaccination remains the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 disease, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.

We also have a mobile vaccination clinic for children and their families.

Find a vaccination location and appointment HERE. 

In addition, we’ve partnered with organizations in Southwest Florida like the Boys & Girls Club to educate you about the vaccine and how it helps.

Booster shots and vaccinations are also available at other locations throughout our community, including Walgreens, CVS, Publix, Florida Department of Health (3920 Michigan Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33916), other local pharmacies, agencies, and offices.

The Florida Department of Health (FDoH) has a vaccine locator by county.

Masks/social distancing protocol

With the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, the CDC and Lee Health urge community members to practice safety precautions. According to Dr. Stephanie Stovall, chief of quality and patient safety at Lee Health, it’s better to socialize inside the home with only one or two other vaccinated households.

Consider wearing a mask if there is a chance some attendees may be unvaccinated or if people in your own household are in a high-risk category.

You can lower your risk during grocery shopping or other public indoor activities by choosing places where people wear masks. If others are not wearing masks, consider choosing a close-fitting mask with good filtration.

Together, we can help control the surge with masking, social distancing, vaccination, and booster shots.

Travel/community events and activities

The CDC reminds members of the public that travel is not recommended until a person is fully vaccinated. For international travel, there may be additional guidelines related to testing and isolation or quarantine. Experts recommend masks for all air travel.

Remember, it’s better to be safe and vaccinated when gathering indoors with large amounts of people. Encourage others to wear masks and get vaccinated and/or boosted as well!

Snowbirds

Florida is world-renowned for its year-round sunshine, lovely weather, and vacation vibes. Are you a snowbird returning to your Florida home or a vacationer looking to get away?

If so, the CDC and Lee Health experts remind you:

  • Vaccination/boosters are still the best way to avoid COVID-19 and to help minimize spread and symptoms.
  • Masks are still encouraged when gathering indoors or traveling.
  • Snowbirds should be on the lookout for event cancellations and/or virtual options.
  • Lee Health is committed to providing excellent healthcare when you need it. Please consider establishing with a local primary care doctor to help address your ongoing health needs.
  • Our 24/7 ERs at all our hospitals and at Lee Health Coconut Point currently are at full capacity, so please talk to your primary care doctor or use our FREE Lee TeleHealth services for non-emergencies or information on COVID-19 testing. 

COVID-19, flu, and seasonal allergies

Do you have sniffles, muscle aches, a runny nose, a sore throat, or a cough? It might be difficult to tell if these are flu symptoms, allergies, a cold, or even COVID-19.  

COVID-19 (coronavirus) and flu (seasonal influenza) are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.

“Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it can be difficult to tell them apart,” Dr. Stovall says. “Adding to the challenge is that symptoms sometimes can overlap when COVID-19 and flu are circulating in a community at the same time.”

COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include a change in or loss of taste or smell.

If you’re infected with COVID-19, you’ll typically develop symptoms five days after infection. However, symptoms can appear as soon as two days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection.

Both COVID-19 and the flu may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache. COVID-19 may present with a new loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Sneezing with a stuffy nose is usually NOT a typical COVID-19 symptom.

Of course, with new variants such as Omicron, it may not always be clear what the symptoms indicate or which condition you have. Be sure to talk to your primary care doctor or use our free TeleHealth service for expert medical help and advice on next steps.

Flu vaccine

According to the FDoH, flu cases in Florida dropped to a record low last year thanks to COVID-19 preventive practices such as wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing our hands. Like COVID-19, the flu spreads mainly through respiratory droplets transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and talking. People with the flu can spread the virus up to six feet away.

“Getting re-vaccinated for the flu each season is necessary because flu strains are constantly changing – the immunity we had against a particular strain of flu last year won’t necessarily recognize a strain circulating in the community this year,” Dr. Stovall notes. “Our immunity from the vaccination also declines over time. Although the vaccine isn’t a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t get the flu, it’s still the safest and best way to protect yourself and others against influenza – especially severe infection.”

The CDC says it is safe to pair a flu vaccine with either a primary COVID-19 shot or a booster dose.

Handwashing

Practicing good hand hygiene – washing our hands well and frequently – is crucial to helping us stay healthy. The CDC advises using soap and water and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used and should have at least 60 percent alcohol, but it is always better to use soap and water to clean your hands.

Because it’s flu season and we’re still contending with COVID-19, here are a few helpful reminders about proper hand-washing practice:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub your hands together to make a later. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Remember to keep scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel and use the towel to turn off the faucet.

If you are using alcohol-based sanitizer to get your hands clean because it is your only option, then:

  • Apply the product to the palm of your hand.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers and continue rubbing until your hands are dry.

In addition to washing your hands frequently, avoid close contact with people who are sick. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and you should stay home if you are sick.