Sometime in late December 2019, a novel disease strain in the coronavirus family appeared in the city of Wuhan in mainland China. Dubbed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19 for short), it has quickly spread across the globe, triggering an international public health emergency. More than 90,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide as of March 2020, resulting in roughly 3,000 deaths from complications caused by the disease.
More than 70 countries and territories have been affected by COVID-19 so far, with major outbreaks occurring in central China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran. The disease has had limited spread in the United States, with only 43 cases confirmed as of March 2020; however, it has already contributed to six deaths.
While no cases have appeared in the Houston area, evacuees from a cruise ship stricken by COVID-19 are currently under quarantine at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base, prompting Mayor Ron Nirenberg to declare a local state of disaster and public health emergency in an effort to keep the coronavirus from entering the city.
Without a doubt, this novel coronavirus represents a severe threat to public health worldwide.
But what can you do to keep yourself and your family safe during this time? Conflicting news reports and differing levels of concern expressed by federal, state, and local officials have muddied the waters for some people, leading to both panic for some and lack of worry concerning COVID-19 for others.
To help set the record straight, let’s provide some context to the coronavirus and offer tips to keep both you and your family safe and healthy.
What Are Coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals. While strains rarely spread between species, mutations that travel from animals to humans (like COVID-19) are often the cause of public health emergencies like the kind we are currently experiencing. Each mutation of the coronavirus presents a new challenge for healthcare workers. Doctors must treat the symptoms of the disease while working to develop an effective vaccine. With every new mutation, the healthcare industry essentially starts over from zero. We can advise treatment for symptoms, but it will be some time before we can develop a way to fight COVID-19 directly.
COVID-19 has the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
Who is Most at Risk?
Elderly and immunocompromised patients are at high risk of developing secondary illnesses like pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis if they contract Coronavirus
There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, so the only way to guarantee you and your family won’t get sick is by avoiding contact with the virus that causes the disease. There are common steps that we all should take to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue into the trash.
- 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. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Practice other good health habits: get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
- Disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, computers, telephones, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, toys, and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.
When to See a Doctor
Currently, nearly all the people in the United States that have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 were exposed through travel to a country with widespread transmission of the disease or through close contact with someone who has traveled to one of these countries, although this may change.
If you feel sick and have not traveled to an area of the world with a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 within the past couple of weeks, stay home from work or school, unless you feel that you need medical attention.
If you have traveled to any areas with widespread outbreak in the past few weeks, or had contact with someone who has, and feel sick with a cough, fever, or difficulty breathing, you should call your doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, or emergency room and tell them of your recent travels and symptoms. They can help to make decisions about getting evaluated.
Currently, testing for the Coronavirus is only done at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Emergency rooms and hospitals will not be able to test patients for the Coronavirus at this time.