Kendall here, deep diving into a topic today that seems to be unavoidable in the news lately — the coronavirus. It’s all over the media and confirmed cases continue to pop up here in the US, but there is also a lot of misinformation out there, unnecessary panic, and dare I use the word, “hysteria.”
Luckily, I have access to some insider info, thanks to my best friend and college roommate, Dr. Courtney Enix. She’s a third-year internal medicine resident at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, which, as you probably know by now, is arguably the U.S. Coronavirus epicenter, and being in the heart of the action, she’s WELL versed on this fast-moving topic.
Knowing this, I proposed the topic idea of a “Coronavirus 101” interview with Courtney to Jess earlier this week and she was ALL for it. So here we are. Here to help you separate the facts from the paranoia!
You might have a lot of questions right now, especially as this virus continues to progress so quickly. Should you postpone travel? Do masks work? Should you work remotely?
Here’s the inside scoop from my best friend and doctor in the heart of it all––the basics of what you need to know, how worried you should be, and what precautions you should be taking.
Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Enix
Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Enix
What has it been like for you as a health provider in Seattle recently — in the epicenter of confirmed U.S. cases?
The last several weeks have been a fascinating look at public health and epidemiology. Our hospital and clinic protocols have been changing daily as the number of confirmed cases grows locally. It’s on everyone’s mind and has been sensationalized in the media. There is certainly a unique opportunity for physicians to help educate, dispel myths, and ease panic amongst patients, family and friends.
Coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, 2019-nCoV, novel coronavirus—what’s the difference?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can lead to illnesses in both humans and animals — coronaviruses are not new. Some of these terms are being used interchangeably in the media so let’s talk about these terms for a minute. The novel (or new) coronavirus, also named SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV, refers to the recently discovered (hence, novel) strain of virus responsible for the current coronavirus outbreak.
COVID-19 refers to the clinical syndrome/disease caused by this new strain of coronavirus. ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona’, ‘VI’ stands for ‘virus’ and ‘D’ stands for ‘disease.’
- Coronaviruses – large family of viruses
- Novel (new) coronavirus (virus name: SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV) – newest strain of coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China
- COVID-19 – disease caused by the novel coronavirus
How many people in the U.S. are confirmed with the virus?
As of March 4, the CDC has confirmed 80 cases within the United States, including 7 deaths in Washington state. These numbers are changing rapidly – the CDC website provides a daily update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Are we all going to get/come into contact with the virus?
It’s challenging to predict future disease burden within the United States at this point. We are seeing spread within local communities now. Whereas a few weeks ago, infected persons within the United States were only those with recent travel abroad. There are ongoing mathematical models trying to predict how many people may be affected.
What can we do to avoid contracting the virus?
Good hand hygiene practices! Sanitize your hands often and frequently disinfect surfaces you may touch. Make every effort to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with individuals who may be sick.
Using hand soap vs. hand sanitizer — are they both effective in protecting against the virus?
Both soap and water and alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be effective. You must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water – think back to elementary school and sing Happy Birthday twice to yourself while washing. The type of soap you use is less important than ensuring you are washing for long enough and including frequently neglected areas such as your thumbs and underneath fingernails.
What are coronavirus symptoms?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 present as “influenza-like symptoms” — fever, cough and shortness of breath. The majority of people affected (more than 80%) experience only mild upper respiratory symptoms.
What should people do if they have symptoms? Should they stay home, see their primary doctor, ER, etc.?
If you are experiencing symptoms, it is best to call your doctor’s office. They can help determine if you need to be seen in clinic or not, and they will help provide guidance on the most appropriate next steps.
Are there any treatments, vaccines or medications effective against COVID-19?
As of right now, there is no vaccine or specific treatment to prevent or treat COVID-19. The vast majority of patients affected with the novel coronavirus will recover with supportive care alone (rest, hydration, etc).
I’ve heard babies and children don’t seem to be affected by the virus — is that true?
There have been very few children affected by COVID-19, and those affected seem to only have mild cases. At present, there are no definitive answers for why this novel coronavirus seems to affect mostly adults and researchers are still trying to better understand factors affecting the age distribution of those affected.
Should people alter their travel plans? Can they do anything else to stay safe while traveling?
Your best bet is to refer to the CDC website for updated travel restrictions and recommendations. Right now, the only countries with travel advisories are China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, and Japan. There are no travel advisories within the US.
When traveling, simply continue everyday preventive actions. Including good hand hygiene (keep some hand sanitizer with you!) and sanitizing surfaces you will come in contact with such as armrests, door handles, etc. Remember to cover your mouth as a courtesy to others. You do not need a mask!
Jess’ Tip: United is waiving change fees for travel booked in the month of March. Southwest never charges change fees–so if you are wanting to travel but would like more flexibility to make a judgment call when the time comes to take your trip, consider those two options! (I’m sure other airlines will do this as well––simply check their website for updates!)
Are masks effective? When should someone use a mask?
No — wearing a regular face mask is not likely to be effective in preventing coronavirus. Unfortunately, this has been a common misconception and is leading to a shortage of masks within the U.S.
Masks should be reserved only for individuals who are symptomatic in order to reduce transmission of the virus and for healthcare workers who are in close contact with patients. If you are wearing a mask please learn how to use and dispose of it properly – there are great tips on the World Health Organization website on this topic.
What other preparations can people take?
In addition to good hand hygiene practices and avoiding contact with individuals who are sick, here are some practical tips that I recommend:
- If there are confirmed cases in your community, it may be best to avoid public gatherings and limiting close contact with others.
- Acquire 90-day supplies of both prescription and over-the-counter medications for the household.
- Stock up on some non-perishable items (don’t forget pet food too!) from the grocery store so you can be prepared should coronavirus impact your community. When this happens, panic often ensues, causing a shortage of certain items in stores. Don’t forget things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Come up with a “sick” plan for your household so you can have a plan in place should there be school closures or work closures. Learn about your employer’s sick-leave policy in case you become sick or need to stay home to take care of a sick household member. The same goes for childcare facilities and schools — have a childcare plan in place should your child’s school be temporarily dismissed. Children and teens should also avoid gathering in public places while school is dismissed. (These contingency plans are good to have every flu season!)
- Don’t go to work, school or other activities if you are feeling sick!!
- Stay informed! The CDC regularly provides updates as well as practical tips for the public.
- Get your flu shot, get your flu shot, get your flu shot! The flu vaccine does not protect you against the novel coronavirus, but influenza kills many Americans every year.
Is there anything we can do to support health workers who will undoubtedly be working especially hard and putting themselves at risk in the coming months?
If you have a friend or family member who works in medicine (physicians, nurses, medical assistants, respiratory therapists, the list goes on!) just take a moment to check-in. Send a quick text or reach out with a phone call to offer your love, friendship and support. Otherwise, just doing your part to help prevent the spread of illness and reduce our national disease burden!