Coronavirus. COVID-19. However you refer to this virus, it’s taking over everyone’s life in some way or another. This virus has upended not only our towns, states, and country, but also our world. Schools are closed. People are working from home. Sports seasons are canceled. While we have the internet at our fingertips, sometimes the amount of information can be overwhelming. Let’s break it down a bit…
COVID-19: What is it?
Simply put, this is a new coronavirus. There are many coronaviruses that exist – but this one, labeled COVID-19, is new. This strain causes a respiratory illness (similar to the flu) and there are currently no vaccines is available. While most people who have coronavirus have few or mild symptoms, some develop increased difficulty breathing and require hospitalization. Unfortunately, we know that there are those that experience respiratory distress that requires intubation/ventilator support.
What are the symptoms?
The general consensus is that the incubation period is 2-14 days after exposure. This means you can catch the virus from someone who is asymptomatic. Most report initial symptoms of fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Since many are not showing any initial symptoms and may not feel sick, this virus can easily spread. This is why many towns & states have mandated social distancing and shelter in place orders.
Flatten the Curve? What does this mean?
What is the point of all this social distancing & shelter in place? The quick answer is that it will help “flatten the curve” when people contract the virus. Flatten the curve means that instead of everyone getting sick at once, we decrease the rate of transmission and spread out the timeframe of those catching the virus. This allows there to be enough medical staff, hospital beds, and supplies available to take care of those who are hospitalized. If everyone becomes sick at once, we just do not have the resources to take care of everyone. This could simply cost someone their life.
If we can delay (or even prevent) transmission by staying at home, this gives the virus less opportunity to move from one person to the next. By doing this we spread out those who are affected and hopefully have the resources and manpower to care for them all.
What can you do to prevent catching the virus?
There are three easy things you can do to help prevent the spread of Covid-19:
Wash your hands. This cannot be stressed enough – the simple act of washing for 20 seconds with soap and water can reduce your chances of transmitting the virus. Every time you leave the house. Before you eat. After you eat. After using the washroom. Each time you return home. Please, wash those hands.
Social Distancing. This means when going out and about (only for necessary trips), keep a distance of 6 feet between you and others. Try to limit any closer contact to under 10 minutes.
Stay Home. Some states have mandated shelter in place orders and requiring all non-essential workers to stay home. Working at home has become highly encouraged or even mandatory in some areas. Schools are closed and transitioning to online. College classes are online. Restaurants are closed, but many places still allow for carry-out orders. Grocery stores, gas stations, banks are all to remain open, however many have adjusted hours.
Staying home does not include socializing with friends, neighbors, or hanging out in groups. While some feel this is unreasonable, especially if they are lower risk, we have seen in other countries (such as Italy) if such extreme measures are not taken, lives are lost.
What do I do if I have Covid-19?
Today, the testing available in the United States is very scarce. Most larger hospital systems may have the ability to test, but have limited tests available. Because of this, testing is usually limited to those who need to be hospitalized to help direct treatment plans.
If you suspect you might have Covid-19, the first thing you should do is call your doctor. You should be instructed to only go to the emergency room if you were to experience increasing difficulty with breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, confusion, or uncontrolled fever. Your doctor’s office should discuss how you should care for yourself and what you should do while at home.
To help reduce the chance of transmission to other patients or to healthcare workers, most people with (or suspected) Covid-19 will remain at home to recover. There are no medications that can be taken to cure this virus. Rest, control fever with acetaminophen, monitor breathing & respiratory status while the virus runs it course is all you can do while at home. Use the same prevention methods mentioned above to help avoid transmitting the virus to others in the home.
Most doctor offices are canceling all routine appointments. They are asking you to call first before heading to the doctor to discuss symptoms you might have. Many hospitals have canceled any elective surgery or procedures. This will allow hospitals to have the staff, resources, and beds available if a surge of Covid-19 patients occurs.
What does the future hold?
If only we could somehow give a date on when this will all be over. But we can’t. Countries across the world have been affected by this virus since middle to late February and it is still very active and unpredictable. There are too many factors that will determine when this pandemic is over. It’s just too early to project when “normal” will return.
Hopefully, all our efforts will make an impact. Our time apart will hopefully remind us to cherish our time together. Families will also be together more in these next few weeks, more than they have been in probably quite some time. If you are able to stay at home, please make the effort to do so. The reality is that many will become sick, and many will fight for their lives. Some won’t survive.
Every first responder, emergency department, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, and doctor are preparing themselves and their families for a very uncertain next couple of weeks and months. Please take the time to make the changes to help yourself and your family, but also help make it easier on the lives of those taking care of the sickest patients during this pandemic.