The rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a lot of anxiety. Schools and many businesses are now closed, weddings are being postponed and grocery stores have become battlegrounds for toilet paper.
Many are starting to wonder if this is our new normal.
We asked Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer, to answer some of the latest questions.
Q: I have a cough and a fever. Now what?
A: The first thing to say is don’t panic. Don’t automatically assume that you have coronavirus. Remember, we’re also entering allergy season and people are coughing for all sorts of reasons. As physicians we use other clues to try to make a diagnosis, like looking at other symptoms and travel history. A lot of physicians are erring on the side of testing people when they have any respiratory symptoms, simply because we want to have surveillance information about what’s going on in our communities.
If you do happen to have coronavirus, most people are able to go home and quarantine there because the vast majority of people that have the virus recover and can stay home through that time.
Q: What’s the difference between screening and testing?
Screening for coronavirus is the evaluation of criteria outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a way to determine the risk factors of someone experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.
Coronavirus testing is an oral or nasal swab administered after someone has been screened and identified as a person at-risk for infection.
Q: Newspaper stories keep talking about the importance of flattening the curve. What does that mean?
A: That refers to a model that tracks coronavirus cases over time. And that model includes two predictions, the sharp spiking cases that would occur if we don’t take preventive measures, as well as the possibility of fewer cases spread out over a longer period of time that would occur if we’re successful with our preventive measures. If everyone uses the recommended preventive measures, we can flatten the curve and thereby prevent health care systems from getting overwhelmed with cases.
Q: It sounds like the vaccine is still several months away. What should people do in the meantime to protect themselves?
A: Continue practicing everyday preventive actions. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. And don’t forget to throw the tissue away! We’ve said this before but it can’t be emphasized enough, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is also important to clean frequently touched surfaces by using a regular household detergent and water.
The CDC has made a number of recommendations over the last few weeks about reducing the size of group gatherings. The most recent recommendation is that people should avoid groups of 10 or more. And if you’re healthy, there are a number of proactive measures you can take to prevent infection. Social distancing is a good example. A good rule of thumb is to maintain at least 6 feet of separation between you and other people to reduce your exposure to germs.
Q: What is the difference between isolation, quarantine and shelter in place?
A: Self-isolation is a measure that we take to prevent infection. So if you’re concerned you might have the infection you should stay home. It’s really a step up from social distancing -- maintaining at least 6 feet of separation.
Shelter in place is very similar to self-isolation but usually involves the closure of businesses and schools, similar to what we’ve seen across the country. Only people with jobs deemed essential, like government and health care, are permitted to continue working at their place of employment.
Quarantine is for people who have been exposed or have symptoms of coronavirus and intended to prevent the spread of the virus. Quarantine is usually established for the incubation period of the communicable disease, which is the span of time during which people have developed illness after exposure. For coronavirus, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses.
Q: What do you do if someone in your house has been diagnosed with coronavirus?
A: Most people who get COVID-19 will be able to recover at home. The CDC has directions for people who are recovering at home and their caregivers, including:
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. In adults, emergency warning signs include: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face. This list is not all-inclusive. Consult your medical provider for any other symptoms.
- Use a separate room and bathroom for sick household members (if possible).
- Clean hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Provide your sick household member with clean, disposable face masks to wear at home.
- Clean the sick room and bathroom, as needed, to avoid unnecessary contact with the sick person.
- Avoid sharing personal items like utensils, food and drinks. Some families switch to disposable plates and utensils.
Q: Can you have flu and coronavirus at the same time?
A: While it’s possible, it’s unlikely.
Q: Are pregnant women more at risk?
A: Because this coronavirus is new, we have a limited amount of information about who is most at-risk for infection. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, pregnant women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. There is increasing concern that pregnant women may be at increased risk for significant complications related to this infection. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illness and discuss their concerns with their physicians.
Q: Do children and adults experience different coronavirus symptoms?
A: While children continue to experience much milder symptoms than adults, some children did not experience a fever and had more digestive symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.