COVID-19 a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) which first broke out as a local infection in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
The disease has forced many countries around the world to go into some kind of lockdown while instituting social distancing rules that will slow the spread of the virus as researchers work to find a vaccine and effective treatment.
COVID-19 shows up differently in different individuals and can range from severe, life-threatening illnesses to mild sickness.
Why should the COVID-19 pandemic be taken seriously?
SARS-Cov-2 is a novel coronavirus. This means it is a new virus that prior to this outbreak had not infected humans.
As a result of this, doctors and scientists did not have any information on exactly how this virus affects humans, what kinds of symptoms to expect and what kind of drugs to even administer to someone who had been infected and was experiencing a severe illness as a result.
The novelty of this virus also means people around the world have not built an immunity to it. This means doctors and scientists don’t know if the antibodies our bodies produce against this virus – once a person recovers – can protect them from being infected again. There is a lot of uncertainty and a significant knowledge gap as far as COVID-19 infections are concerned. Thus, it’s important to slow the spread as much as possible.
And then last but not least, COVID-19 can become life-threatening very quickly. Even though the numbers of people with severe disease have been between 5-10% of those who have tested positive for the virus, this number translates to thousands of people who may not get the adequate healthcare they need when they need it.
This sudden overwhelm of healthcare systems around the world is something to be concerned about as well.
What can you do to prevent the SARS-Cov-2 infection?
Ideally, a majority of people should be adhering to social distancing rules as well as improved hygiene protocols to help to slow the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
Here are guidelines you can follow to prevent getting infected with the virus.
- Avoid large gatherings and preferably limit group meetings to less than 10 people at a time.
- Stand six feet apart from other individuals in public spaces such as in the grocery store or when you go walking on the street.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water. While you wash your hands, you should gently scrub in between your fingers, under your nails and your wrists. If you are outside of your home and don’t have access to soap and water, using a hand sanitizer is an alternative.
- Wear a face-covering in public. Because SARS-Cov-2 is transmitted by droplets through the air, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people should wear face coverings in public. These include everything from medical grade masks – if you can find those – to cloth coverings like a bandanna or a home-made sewn mask that has at least 2 layers of fabric.
- Clean and disinfect your home regularly. During this season, it is important to clean and disinfect the most commonly touched surfaces in your home at least, once a day. To do a simple clean, first wear gloves and wipe surfaces with soap and water. To disinfect, you can use any EPA-registered disinfectant to wipe down the surface. EPA-registered disinfectants include products that contain:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Household bleach
- Quaternary ammonium
It is important to wear gloves while you disinfect and to open up the windows in your home to allow any fumes that come with using any of these reagents to escape. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for using these disinfectants. As a general rule, solutions that contain at least 70% alcohol or 10% bleach will disinfect surfaces and kill most infectious bacteria and viruses.
For electronics, having a wipeable cover on the electronic device will prevent you from damaging the device with moisture. Otherwise, most of the time, you can use a disinfectant wipe followed by drying quickly to keep your devices free of infectious agents.
- While wearing gloves in public may help to prevent infection, if you don’t use gloves correctly, they can become a carrier for all kinds of organisms. Therefore, even if you wear gloves out of your home, make sure to discard them immediately you get home. Follow that up by washing your hands thoroughly as described above.
- Clean your laundry regularly.
How can you tell you have the infection?
Look out for these symptoms. Emergency signs that require immediate attention.
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face (In people with a darker complexion, this may show up as ashy looking skin)
While this is not an all-inclusive list, if you or your loved one are experiencing any of these emergency symptoms, you need to call 911 immediately and wear a face covering before medical help arrives.
Other symptoms associated with COVID-19 are:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste and smell that wasn’t there before
These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. If you have these symptoms but are not having trouble breathing, call your primary healthcare provider for their advice on the next steps you should take.
What should you do if you or your loved one has symptoms of COVID-19?
If you or your loved one is having trouble breathing, you call 911 as quickly as possible. If your breathing or that of your loved one is not compromised but there are still symptoms, call the hospital triage center first before going to the emergency room.
The reason here is this – if you are experiencing the symptoms we described above – but don’t actually have the virus, and you visit an emergency room, chances are higher that you will contract the virus from there. Thus doctors are recommending that you call ahead of coming to the hospital if you are not experiencing severe respiratory or breathing problems.
If the triage team recommends that you stay at home instead of coming to the hospital or they test positive but are not experiencing severe illness, here are actions you can take to ensure the rest of the family is protected.
- Monitor your progress using a COVID-10 mobile App
- If it is possible, keep a separate bedroom and bathroom for the infected family member.
- If there is no choice but to share a bathroom with your infected family member, the bathroom should be disinfected after each use.
- The person who is sick should be fed in a separate room where possible.
- Any clothes and bedding used by the infected family member should be handled with gloves and washed using hot water and laundry detergent.
- Any eating utensils should also be washed with hot water and soap.
- Discard any gloves that are used to touch your infected loved one or anything they have used.
- Where possible, dedicate a lined trash can for your infected/sick family member to use.
- Continue to assure your loved one that you care for them and that you will get through this together.