What you need to know right now.
You have probably heard about the latest public health concern: a new coronavirus causing a disease referred to as COVID-19. The outbreak of this virus has been dominating news cycles, been discussed in presidential debates, and even been joked about on Saturday Night Live. However, not all you hear on media platforms can be considered true. In fact, this misinformation can result in fear and anxiety. Let’s review the facts and discuss how we can protect ourselves.
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness. People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses. Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus.
Some examples of this in recent years have been Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which affected around 2,000 persons, mostly in the Arabian Peninsula and South Korea, between 2012 and 2017, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which had around 8,000 cases, mostly in China and Hong Kong, from late 2002 to summer 2003.
The most recent example is COVID-19, which was unknown before the recent outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Because this is a new virus affecting humans, the uncertainty of how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States has caused great concern.
What are Symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. The severity of COVID-19 symptoms can range from very mild to severe. These symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and death.
How is COVID-19 Spread?
The CDC states that this virus is spread person-to-person through droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible that a person can touch a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touch his/her own mouth, nose, or eyes and become infected.
Who is at Risk?
- For the general American public, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.
- Children seem protected from severe disease.
- People with pre-existing medical conditions (like respiratory or heart problems), a weaker immune system, and poor overall health are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
- Older adults, especially those over age 80 are at higher risk for severe disease.
- Healthcare workers caring for persons with COVID-19 are at higher risk of exposure to the virus.
- People who have recently traveled to or have residence in China are at a higher risk.
- Also at risk are persons who have come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, such as when a family member or health care worker takes care of an infected person.
Should I Keep Travel Plans?
The CDC has categorized COVID-19 risk assessment [by country],(https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html) with the following recommendations:
- Warning Level 3: The CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices because of the risk of getting COVID-19.
- Alert Level 2: Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, people in these groups should talk to a health care provider and consider postponing travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices.
- Watch Level 1: The CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low.
The CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices (such as the U.S.) because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low.
The CDC states that due to the method of air circulation and filtration on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on a plane. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol.
The CDC also recommends travelers avoid traveling if they are sick and to stay home and monitor one’s health for 14 days after returning to the U.S.
How do I Stay Safe?
The CDC recommends strategies similar to avoiding the flu. These strategies are:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue and then dispose of the tissue.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and services.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
The WHO (World Health Organization) also recommends maintaining a distance of at least three feet from people who are coughing or sneezing.
As The New York Times points out in this article, these strategies are simple but not always easy to follow. People have the habit of touching their face as a way to relieve stress, sometimes inadvertently several times an hour. Imagine an infected person riding an elevator, sneezing during the ride, and touching the buttons. The next person will press the same button, then scratch their nose, rub their eye, or touch their mouth. These are all entry points for the coronavirus. Make an effort to break the cycle
Should I wear a Mask to Protect Myself?
The CDC does not recommend that people wear facemasks unless you are having symptoms or you are a healthcare worker taking care of someone in close settings.
What if I Get Sick?
According to the WHO, stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to direct you to the right facility, which will also help prevent spreading the virus to others. Depending on your symptoms and other risk factors, you may be instructed to isolate or quarantine yourself from others for 14 days.
The Bottom Line
COVID-19 is a new illness and the medical community is not sure how this epidemic will play out. The important thing is not to panic. This is a rapidly evolving situation and you should refer to the CDC website for the most up-to-date information.
Find your state department of health website below.
- Louisiana State Department of Health: Coronavirus (site hasn’t been updated since Feb. 14, 2020)
- Local Health Departments in Louisiana
- Virginia State Department of Health: Coronavirus
- Local Health Departments in Virginia
- Virginia public school districts (contacts available)
- Washington State Department of Health: Coronavirus
- Local Health Departments in Washington
- Seattle Department of Health: Coronavirus