Public concern about the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is rapidly rising as more cases are confirmed in the United States and the global number of cases has surpassed 100,000. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic a Global Health Emergency, and several states, including Maryland, have declared states of emergency because of the virus.
So far, there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 86 countries around the world. Here is a breakdown of the numbers as of March 6, 2020.
Total worldwide cases: 101,733
Total deaths: 3,460
Confirmed cases in United States: 260
Deaths in the United States: 12
Confirmed cases in Maryland: 3
Deaths in Maryland: 0
*This is a rapidly changing situation. Click here for the most recent statistics.
The situation seems frightening, but it may not be as bad as you think. Dr. Ted Bailey, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at GBMC, sat down with Fox 45 anchor, Tom Rodgers, to explain the current situation and break down what you need to know about COVID-19.
What is the coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses that are actually quite common. Most known strains simply cause the common cold and are not life-threatening to otherwise healthy people. While these strains do not cause concern, there are three strains that have been more serious: SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. The COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of influenza and other respiratory illnesses. Symptoms typically include:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Shortness of breath
Who is most likely to be affected by COVID-19?
Certain populations are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming ill from it. Serious cases are found disproportionately in the elderly and in people who have recently traveled from areas where the disease is more common. Those with weakened immune systems are also at a higher risk for COVID-19.
The large majority of cases are mild and do not affect the long-term health of those infected.
How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from getting COVID-19?
There are several things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19, but the most important one is to wash your hands. Doing this frequently and thoroughly is the best way to prevent the transmission of the illness. COVID-19 is primarily spread through tiny droplets that can be transferred from objects to people. The virus can infect you when these droplets get on your hand and you then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. Disinfecting “high-touch” objects like doorknobs and regularly washing your hands is a very effective way to stop the spread of this disease.
Face masks may be helpful in high-risk environments like hospitals, but there are no proven benefits to wearing them in public spaces like grocery stores. Improper use of masks can trap other germs near your face and may increase your risk of getting a different virus like influenza. If you decide to use a mask, make sure that it fits you properly.
What should someone do if they think they have COVID-19?
Unless you’re having serious respiratory problems, don’t go straight to the Emergency Department. The best thing to do is to stay at home and call your primary care provider, or the Maryland Coronavirus Hotline at 211. These healthcare providers can help determine whether you need to seek additional treatment.
Because of limited resources, patients must meet specific criteria to be tested for coronavirus. You cannot simply go to your healthcare provider and ask to be tested. While researchers are working to make tests more available, testing is currently only done for people who meet the criteria and are at high risk for COVID-19.
If you are experiencing symptoms, stay at home and practice good hygiene. Simple measures like coughing into your elbow rather than your hands and wiping down common surfaces can prevent others from becoming infected.
How bad is the situation?
While COVID-19 should be taken seriously, it is not very different from other respiratory disease outbreaks. There are influenza outbreaks every year that claim dramatically more lives than COVID-19. So far this season, there have been more than 30 million cases of influenza in the United States, 18,000 of which have resulted in deaths. In comparison, COVID-19 has claimed 12 lives in the United States.
The 24-hour news cycle and the spread of misinformation has caused anxiety for many. Because this virus is being talked about differently than other illnesses, people may assume it’s more dangerous. Dr. Bailey says that is untrue, and that cancelling concerts and sporting events is an overreaction. These activities aren’t suspended for influenza or other contagious diseases, and they don’t need to be canceled for the coronavirus, either.
Dr. Bailey stresses that there is no reason to panic. Healthcare experts are watching the situation closely, actively working to develop vaccines and treatments, and using their knowledge about other diseases to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Simply put, don’t panic, wash your hands, and stay home if you’re sick.
*Click here for more information about the coronavirus (COVID-19)*