Health Department Advises on COVID Question: Treat at Home or in Hospital?

BREWSTER, NY—As Putnam County residents are set to celebrate the holidays, a resurgence of COVID sets a challenging backdrop. A key consideration for residents experiencing COVID-like symptoms, which can be either mild or severe, is determining whether they can be treated at home or they need emergency care. The Putnam County Executive and the Department of Health remind people that COVID symptoms can occur 2 to 14 days after being exposed and offers advice to help people determine the best course of action in this continuing pandemic.

“The holiday season is a special time for family and friends,” says County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “We all want to enjoy this special time while remaining safe and healthy. Knowing when—and how—to treat yourself at home safely is an important first step.”

Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD, explains further that, “Many mild COVID-like symptoms are similar to the flu and can be easily treated at home. They include fever and chills; sore throat, cough and fatigue; and muscle or body aches. A person can have nasal congestion or a runny nose as well. All of these can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. Acetaminophen for example is very effective for fever or body aches. The ill person should also take care to stay hydrated and get extra rest.”

Another important part of treating someone at home requires separation from others in the home to avoid spreading any illness. Dr. Nesheiwat further emphasizes that, “This means making the sick person comfortable in a different room if possible. If not, a mask and at least six feet of distance are very important.” Other symptoms of mild COVID can include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and a new loss of taste or smell.

Monitoring a person’s condition is also crucial to know if their condition worsens. A thermometer should be used several times a day, and a pulse oximeter, available at drugstores is also a good idea. This small device fits over the tip of a finger and measures the oxygen level in a person’s blood.

“People coping with or recovering from COVID-19 should pay attention their respiratory strength — for those able to treat their symptoms at home, daily observation of personal breathing patterns such as rhythm, rate, and quality can help to determine when or if to seek medical care. Those discharged home from a hospital may have an incentive spirometer to use as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation,” says Dr. Nesheiwat. For those without a prescribed pulmonary rehabilitation regimen, Dr. Nesheiwat recommends symptomatic individuals stay in communication with their healthcare provider. “Any shortness of breath or difficulty breathing means immediate emergency treatment is necessary.”

Other signs that demand immediate emergency attention include persistent pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, inability to wake or stay awake, and new confusion. These are signs of serious illness and a call to 911 is necessary. Warn the dispatcher if you are confirmed or suspected to have COVID.

“We all know these are challenging times and times we want and need to stay connected with family and friends,” says County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “The key has been and continues to be a community-based approach. Putnam County businesses have implemented innovative solutions to adhere to COVID safety measures and we must continue to support them and one-another as we keep Putnam safe. Additionally, the county is working to increase access to testing for our residents and the health department has a vaccine implementation plan that will follow New York State’s tiered approach to vaccination.”

“Everyone seems to agree that vaccine development has worked at amazing speed,” says Dr. Nesheiwat. “We are expecting that they will become widely available sometime in the first half of the new year. We need to remain as strong and cautious as possible until then.”

The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services, provided directly and through collaboration, include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our county website at; or visit our social media sites @PutnamHealthNY on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.