The fear of COVID-19 is widely prevalent in our community and around the world. Education is critical to understanding the situation and preventing it from getting worse. To help answer your questions, Theodore Bailey, MD, JD, MA, and Molly Hyde, MHS, CIC, from GBMC’s Division of Infectious Diseases sat down with Christian Schaffer and explained what we know about the virus so far.
It’s easy to mix up or misunderstand the different words being used to describe the current outbreak, so here is a breakdown of the most commonly used terms:
Coronavirus: A family of viruses including SARS, MERS, SARS-CoV-2. Other versions of the virus cause the common cold.
SARS-CoV-2: The name of the specific virus that is causing the current outbreak
COVID-19: The disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus
Epidemic: An outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time
Pandemic: An outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population
Prevention and Spread of the Virus
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets – tiny droplets coming from the mouth or nose that contain the virus – which can live on inanimate objects or be passed from person-to-person. Fortunately, COVID-19 can be killed with common household disinfectants and with thorough handwashing. Molly Hyde suggests going straight to a sink when you get home to prevent objects in your house from becoming contaminated. Click here to see the CDC’s guidelines for proper handwashing.
It’s also important to regularly disinfect “high-touch” surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, and faucets. Look at the label of the cleaning products you choose before using them to make sure that you’re using them correctly and that they’re strong enough to kill the virus. A cleaning product that is effective against the flu should also be effective against COVID-19.
Practice social distancing by avoiding close contact with others. Do not go out unnecessarily, especially if you are regularly in close contact with people in high-risk groups (the elderly and those with compromised immune systems). The CDC has recommended that all gatherings of 50 people or more should be cancelled for the next 8 weeks.
What to Do if You Think You May Have COVID-19
Unless you are experiencing a true medical emergency and need immediate attention, do not got straight to an emergency department (ED). Unnecessarily going to the ED can overwhelm the staff and put other people at risk. This is true for any respiratory infection.
The question you should ask yourself is: Would I be going to the ED for this if there was no coronavirus outbreak going on?
If the answer is yes, come to the ED so that you can get the help you need. If the answer is no, the first thing you should do is call your primary care provider or the Maryland Coronavirus Hotline at 211. They will be able to assess you over the phone and decide whether you need medical treatment.
The primary symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Fever (> 100.4°)
- Shortness of breath
- Cough with mucous production
- Sore throat
- Body aches
While healthcare experts are working to make COVID-19 tests more widely available, there are very limited resources and patients need a doctor’s order to get tested. Tests will only be given to patients who meet a set of criteria based on active symptoms.
If you do qualify for a test, a healthcare professional will take a swab and send it to the laboratory. Results should come back after a few days.
Treatment and Vaccines
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a new (novel) virus and there is currently no medical treatment or vaccine. The best thing that someone with mild symptoms can do is to stay home and try to limit their contact with family members while they are ill.
Media outlets have reported that a vaccine may be available in a “few months,” but it will take a minimum of a 12 to 18 months before a vaccine will be available to the public. The “few months” is referring to when vaccines will be available for clinical trials. Before a vaccine can be given to the public, it must go through testing to make sure that it’s safe and that it works. If the initial research is not successful, it may take longer for a vaccine to become available.
There are a lot of questions surrounding travelling and whether trips should be cancelled or postponed. The short answer is that it depends. If you are wondering what to do about an upcoming trip, keep in mind who you are traveling with and where you are going. The CDC is recommending that high-risk groups avoid all unnecessary travel, but there are many factors that make it difficult to predict how others traveling will affect the spread of the virus.
The different methods of travel have varying levels of risk. Your risk of contracting COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness is directly proportionate to how close you are to an infected person. Going on a car trip with people you are already exposed to is very different than being on a cruise ship for a prolonged time with many people you haven’t yet been exposed to. Going on a hiking trip is also very different from going to a crowded amusement park or resort. Use your judgement and continue to watch the situation closely when deciding what to do about a planned trip.
GBMC’s staff is working diligently to keep patients and staff safe during this uncertain time. Safety standards are being used for all respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. Dr. Bailey explained that this is why certain healthcare workers are using masks and other protective gear, even though it isn’t recommended for the public. The nature of contact between a healthcare provider and a patient is much closer than general public interaction. Examining a patient’s throat or performing a procedure to sample an airway creates significantly more exposure than passing by a sick person in a grocery store. GBMC is doing everything possible to reduce the risk of COVID-19, including limiting unnecessary visitors in our hospital and primary care locations. Please click here to see our updated visitor policy.
*Click here for more information about the coronavirus (COVID-19)*