The Coronavirus

March 9, 2020

Everywhere you turn people are talking about or reacting to news about the CORONAVIRUS, usually with a lot of panic and hyperbole. This outbreak is technically known as the COVID-19. The stock market alone has reacted strongly to the increasing number of cases, first the seemingly uncontained outbreak in China with its significant impact on the United States supply chain, and then the ongoing spread of the virus to other countries including most recently the US itself. Reactions are highly visible ranging from people wearing face-masks in airports and stores, to discussions of school closings in major cities like Seattle and New York, and cancellations of trips planned well in advance, potential cancelation of major sporting and other entertainment events such as the music festival South by Southwest, a huge annual event in Austin, TX.  Other major national and international conferences and trade shows, including medical conferences, have been or are expected to be cancelled soon.


Symptoms To Look Out For:

"Symptoms of [the COVID-19] infection include fever, cough and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. The illness causes lung lesions and pneumonia. But milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, making detection difficult.


Patients also may exhibit other symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems or diarrhea. Current estimates suggest that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days after exposure to the virus," (The New York Times, 2020).

 

If you begin to have a high fever, shortness of breath or any more serious symptoms typical of a respiratory virus call your doctor’s office. Not all providers even have the test kits for COVID-19. They are only available on a spotty basis, so ask for guidance on what you should do before you risk infecting others. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website may have the most current information on where to get tested.


It is very important to separate the facts from the hype, because there is a significant amount of reactive drama caused by sensationalized news stories and rumors. However, the COVID-19 is nothing to sneeze at (pun seriously intended). It is fast becoming a global pandemic and needs to be taken seriously but also needs to be dealt with rationally. Here are some facts about how this version of the coronavirus CAN and CANNOT spread, to the extent that scientists have been able to determine and some things that you can do to prepare and protect yourself and your family. 

  • 1. COVID-19 is highly contagious and is spread through “viral droplets” meaning a teeny tiny droplet carrying particles of the virus which come out in the mucus of the person who has the virus when they cough, sneeze, laugh, etc. If these droplets hit you or you touch them while the virus is still alive and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth you are at greatest risk of getting the virus.  As one New York Times health columnist put it, “Stop touching your face!”. It is also probably not a good idea to talk in close face-to-face proximity, share a meal or kiss a person who may have the coronavirus just as it isn’t a good idea to do so with anyone who has a virus of any kind.
  • 2. Don’t shake hands with people since shaking hands represents a great opportunity to share germs if someone has sneezed, blown their nose, coughed into their hand or touched an infected surface. Even the NBA is recommending that it’s players switch to fist bumps instead of high fives. Some people also use elbow bumps. This is also an excellent opportunity to remind people to sneeze or cough into your arm rather than your hands and, if you blow your nose into a tissue, throw it out promptly and then wash your hands thoroughly. Other recommendations include using your paper towel to open doorknobs and turn light switches on and off or your knuckle if you do not have a paper towel. Stocking up on alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol content) and, if you feel so compelled, latex/nitrile gloves may be a good idea but both are in short supply already in some areas due to high levels of panic.
  • 3. So our best advice is to wash your hands often and thoroughly with any brand of soap and water for 20 seconds (two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song) or use a liquid hand sanitizer as long as it has at least 60% alcohol and don’t touch your face!
  • 4. The virus can live on a surface for two hours to nine days but seems to break down quickly if wiped with a disinfectant.
  • 5. Advice varies on whether to stand 3 or 6 feet from a sick person, but it is pretty clearly stated that wearing face-masks is NOT beneficial unless you are sick or a healthcare worker. Keeping your distance is the best advice.
  • 6. Closely related to #4, PLEASE stay home if you are sick. Even if you do not have the COVID-19, if you have any virus, you not only put others at risk but your immune system is compromised and makes you more vulnerable to the COVID-19 and anything else that is floating around. The flu is still rampant. Contact your employer and see if you can work from home and try to rest, drink plenty of fluids and get better.
  • 7. Find out what your child’s school is planning to do regarding the COVID-19. Is there any consideration of a shutdown in the near future? How will they notify you of any cases and what plans do they have in place?
  • 8. If you have family in an older adult facility they may be more at risk than anyone as has occurred in Seattle. If the virus is introduced into that population, it spreads easily into a group that is much more vulnerable to it.Find out what your family member’s facility is doing to increase their steps with regard to infection control and reducing the likelihood of this occurring.
  • 9. Despite what you may have heard, the COVID-19 may potentially be more dangerous than influenza or the “flu”. It is a little too early to tell from the data. Unfortunately people die from both. But this COVID-19 seems to spread so easily and rapidly that if it has a similar percentage of deaths, it could potentially have a bigger negative impact overall before it is done, hence the urgency to get it under control. Either way, it is important enough that it is worth taking preventive steps to try to halt its progress. No one should minimize the impact of this compared to the flu...it is already clear it will spread to a much bigger population very quickly.
  • 10. It does seem to be possible for someone who does not appear to be sick to be a carrier and infect others, but the majority of cases have been spread by someone who was clearly ill.
  • 11. For most people symptoms are as mild as a cold or the flu. It is a respiratory virus. But for others, especially the elderly or those with other underlying conditions, it is a very dangerous virus and may cause death.

The coronavirus, technically known as COVID-19 for the outbreak first appearing last year, has actually been around for a long time, but hasn’t been active and spread in this form. In fact, there is a Facebook post by a physician and molecular virologist named James Robb, who did early research of coronaviruses in the 1970s at the University of California San Diego and wrote a Facebook letter intended for family and friends. It is, in fact, good advice and went viral, way beyond what he intended and was verified by Snopes Did a Noted Pathologist Write This Viral Coronavirus Advice Letter?.

As of March 7, 2020 the virus had infected over 100,000 people in at least 90 countries. There were 164 cases in the US in 19 states and 11 deaths, mostly among those who had other underlying conditions. The CDC website has an interactive map and daily updates regarding locations in the US and around the world, as well as travel warnings if you have concerns regarding upcoming travel plans. If you are planning to take a cruise, I suggest being especially diligent.  Cruise ships are notorious for being great places for viruses to take hold and spread like wildfire. Several major cruise companies are taking action because of the COVID-19, either being more liberal with their cancellation or reschedule policies or stepping up their sanitation measures drastically. Airlines and airports are also publicizing improved sanitation efforts.  The bonus out of all of this may end up being that airplanes may finally be cleaner than they have been in awhile.  It’s about time! But exercise an abundance of caution regarding your vacation without panicking unnecessarily.  It is unfortunately quite possible that we will still have this coronavirus in 2021, though one can hope that there will be more effective ways to deal with it by then. If you are traveling, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of contracting any virus while on an airplane.  This New York Times article provides a few hints that are practical at any time, even when we aren’t facing a potential pandemic crisis.


In addition to all of the above regarding your health and that of your family, I feel compelled to add a comment regarding the increased levels of hateful actions against innocent people who appear to be Asian. This is xenophobia, a form of racism...blaming people who come from a certain country, or are of a certain ethnicity, for an event which they as individuals had nothing to do with. This xenophobia only makes a difficult situation worse.

Wishing you a healthy and peaceful March!

The New York Times. (2020, March 3). 'What Are the Symptoms?' 'Is There a Cure?' and Other Coronavirus Questions. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-symptoms-flu.html?searchResultPosition=3

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