The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

News You Can Use: Buy a Pulse Oximeter in Case You Catch Covid


A few weeks ago, I tested positive for Covid. After a few days of really bad symptoms (fever, chills, etc.), I felt reasonably good. I had no trouble breathing. But I had read months ago that one reason Covid patients were dying is that some people whose breathing felt fine were actually quite short on oxygen due to Covid-related pneumonia, but they didn't know it. By the time they got to the hospital because it started to affect their breathing, the pneumonia was severe, they had extremely low oxygen levels and their prospects were poor. So last Spring I bought a cheap pulse oximeter in case I caught Covid, and I started monitoring my blood oxygen levels when I tested positive.

Even though my symptoms seemed to be resolving, my blood oxygen levels were gradually decreasing. By nine days after symptoms started, my readings were 91-93 (95 and up is fine, under 94 needs to be monitored closely, under 90 is dangerous). So my physician brother-in-law sent me to the emergency room to be checked. They did a chest x-ray and CT scan and found substantial pneumonia in my lungs. Five days in the hospital later, after treatment with remdesivir, steroids, and some supplemental oxygen, I was ready to be discharged with a take-home oxygen tank, and after the first day or two at home my oxygen levels were back over 95. (I'm feeling pretty good at this point except I still get winded easily.)

If I had stayed home, would my symptoms have resolved themselves? Likely, especially given that the evidence that remdesivir really helps much if at all is sketchy. But it's also possible that without my handy pulse oximeter, my pneumonia would have continued to progress and I would have still wound up in the hospital later, in much worse shape.

All of which is a long way of suggesting that you should buy a pulse oximeter and have it handy in case you get Covid. Why the CDC and state and local public health officials haven't been beating this drum since the Spring, I don't know…