According to the WHO: “The rapid spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has sparked alarm worldwide”. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared this rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, and many countries are grappling with a rise in confirmed cases. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising people to be prepared for disruptions to daily life that will be necessary if the coronavirus spreads within communities.
You should always practice social distancing in any public environment. You should not be closer than 6 feet when standing on line at the supermarket or waiting for a light to turn green. Follow Federal and state guidelines as it relates to staying home and avoiding unnecessary contact with people. First Responders have to take extra precautions.
Q: What do I need to know about washing my hands effectively?
First: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing or touching any common surface, especially in a hospital.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Then get to a handwash location ASAP.
- Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
- Don’t forget to rub your thumbs with soap and completely cover your wrists.
- The CDC’s handwashing website has detailed instructions and a video about effective handwashing procedures.
Q: Should I wear a face mask?
Follow public health recommendations where you live. Generally, face masks are not recommended for the general public in the US. Some health facilities require people to wear a mask under certain circumstances.
If you have respiratory symptoms like coughing or sneezing, experts recommend wearing a mask to protect others. This may help contain droplets containing any type of virus, including the flu, and protect anyone within three to six feet of the infected person.
The CDC offers more information about masks. The WHO offers videos and illustrations on when and how to use a mask.
Your immune system is your body’s defense system. When a harmful invader — like a cold or flu virus, or the coronavirus that causes COVID-19— gets into your body, your immune system mounts an attack. Known as an immune response, this attack is a sequence of events that involves various cells and unfolds over time.
Following general health guidelines is the best step you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Take a multivitamin if you suspect that you may not be getting all the nutrients you need through your diet
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control your stress level
- Control your blood pressure
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation (no more than one to two drinks a day for men, no more than one a day for women)
- Get enough sleep
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and trying not to touch your hands to your face, since harmful germs can enter through your eyes, nose, and mouth
Q: How can I protect myself while caring for someone that may have COVID-19?
You should take many of the same precautions as you would if you were caring for someone with the flu:
- Stay in another room or be separated from the person as much as possible. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.
- Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good air flow. Turn on an air conditioner or open a window.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- You and the person should wear a face mask if you are in the same room.
- Wear a disposable face mask and gloves when you touch or have contact with the person’s blood, stool, or body fluids, such as saliva, sputum, nasal mucus, vomit, urine.
- Throw out disposable face masks and gloves after using them. Do not reuse.
- First remove and throw away gloves. Then, immediately clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Next, remove and throw away the face mask, and immediately clean your hands again with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not share household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items with the person who is sick. After the person uses these items, wash them thoroughly.
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash laundry thoroughly.
- Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
- Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep soiled items away from your body. Clean your hands immediately after removing your gloves.
- Place all used disposable gloves, face masks, and other contaminated items in a lined container or plastic bag before disposing of them in a properly labeled bio hazard container or bag. Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after handling these items.
Q: My parents are older, which puts them at higher risk for COVID-19, and they don’t live nearby. How can I help them if they get sick?
Caring from a distance can be stressful. Start by talking to your parents about what they would need if they were to get sick. Put together a single list of emergency contacts for their (and your) reference, including doctors, family members, neighbors, and friends. Include contact information for their local public health department.
You can also help them to plan ahead. For example, ask your parents to give their neighbors or friends a set of house keys. Have them stock up on prescription and over-the counter medications, health and emergency medical supplies, and nonperishable food and household supplies (see How to prepare for more detail). Check in regularly by phone, Skype, or however you like to stay in touch.
Terms to know:
Community spread (community transmission): is said to have occurred when people have been infected without any knowledge of contact with someone who has the same infection
Contact tracing: a process that begins with identifying everyone a person diagnosed with a given illness (in this case COVID-19) has been in contact with since they became contagious. The contacts are notified that they are at risk, and may include those who share the person’s home, as well as people who were in the same place around the same time as the person with COVID-19 — a school, office, restaurant, or doctor’s office, for example. Contacts may be quarantined or asked to isolate themselves if they start to experience symptoms, and are more likely to be tested for coronavirus if they begin to experience symptoms.
Containment: refers to limiting the spread of an illness. Because no vaccines exist to prevent COVID-19 and no specific therapies exist to treat it, containment is done using public health interventions. These may include identifying and isolating those who are ill, and tracking down anyone they have had contact with and possibly placing them under quarantine.
Epidemic: a disease outbreak in a community or region
Flattening the curve: refers to the epidemic curve, a statistical chart used to visualize the number of new cases over a given period of time during a disease outbreak. Flattening the curve is shorthand for implementing mitigation strategies to slow things down, so that fewer new cases develop over a longer period of time. This increases the chances that hospitals and other healthcare facilities will be equipped to handle any influx of patients.
Incubation period: the period of time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms begin.
Isolation: the separation of people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
Mitigation: refers to steps taken to limit the impact of an illness. Because no vaccines exist to prevent COVID-19 and no specific therapies exist to treat it, mitigation strategies may include frequent and thorough handwashing, not touching your face, staying away from people who are sick, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects at home, in schools, at work, and in other settings.
Pandemic: a disease outbreak affecting large populations or a whole region, country, or continent presumptive positive test result: a positive test for the virus that causes COVID-19, performed by a local or state health laboratory, is considered “presumptive” until the result is confirmed by the CDC. While awaiting confirmation, people with a presumptive positive test result will be considered to be infected.
Quarantine: separates and restricts the movement of people who have a contagious disease, have symptoms that are consistent with the disease, or were exposed to a contagious disease, to see if they become sick.
SARS-CoV-2: short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, SARS-CoV-2 is the official name for the virus responsible for COVID-19.
social distancing: refers to actions taken to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease. For an individual, it refers to maintaining enough distance between yourself and another person to reduce the risk of breathing in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In a community, social distancing measures may include limiting or cancelling large gatherings of people.
Virus: a virus is the smallest of infectious microbes, smaller than bacteria or fungi. A virus consists of a small piece of genetic material (DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein shell. Viruses cannot survive without a living cell in which to reproduce. Once a virus enters a living cell (the host cell) and takes over a cell’s inner workings, the cell cannot carry out its normal life-sustaining tasks. The host cell becomes a virus manufacturing plant, making viral parts that then reassemble into whole viruses and go on to infect other cells. Eventually, the host cell dies.
If you follow the steps outlined above, you should be well prepared to resist contracting this deadly disease.
BE SAFE – STAY STRONG – STAY HEALTHY