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Community Spread COVID-19: Be Informed and Prepared for What You Can Do

At the beginning of this year, the world became aware of an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China. In a matter of weeks, the source was identified as a novel (or new) coronavirus, which has since been named SARS-CoV-2, causing what is now known as COVID-19. A handful of incidents have quickly become tens of thousands of cases, with spread to six continents. Recent events show community spread (i.e., people are becoming infected who have had no recent travel to China or known contact with a known or suspected case of COVID-19), is occurring outside of China, including here in the U.S. As the condition affects more people across the globe, here are guidance and steps you can take now.

First, remain calm. While concerning, the mortality rate of this virus is still comparatively low to other viruses. Influenza killed more than 34,000 people in the U.S. alone last year,1 while only a tenth of this number have succumbed to COVID-19 worldwide. It is very important to maintain proper perspective: The vast majority of persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 (80%) will have only mild illness and majority will recover.2 With COVID-19, older people and people with certain underlying health conditions seem to be at greater risk of serious illness.1,3

The most empowering thing we can do is to control what we can. So, what can you do today to prepare at home and at work? Listed here are a few:4-7

  1. Get your news only from reputable sources. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) will provide you with trustworthy and accurate facts, so you can determine your own level of risk and take reasonable precautions.
  2. Trust the system. Follow public health recommendations, from local or state health departments and the CDC, such as travel restrictions. Also reserve masks for healthcare workers until otherwise advised. Improper mask use can actually increase your risk of infection as you touch your face to put it on or remove it or worse, re-use it.
  3. Get your flu shot. For that matter, be sure you are current on all of your immunizations. This will help keep you as healthy as possible and prevent having multiple epidemics occurring simultaneously. These immunizations help healthcare professionals make a proper diagnosis should you become sick and “makes the healthcare system more robust by preventing an influx of flu patients.”8
  4. Perform frequent hand hygiene. Hand sanitizer is equally as effective for this virus as soap and water washing. When washing with soap and water, be sure to scrub all surfaces of the hands and fingers for at least 15–20 seconds.
  5. Avoid touching your face. The eyes, nose and mouth are portals of entry into your body for viruses.
  6. Cover your cough. This prevents spreading any of your germs to others. And perform hand hygiene afterward.
  7. Avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home if you are sick. Can you work remote? Utilize flexible working arrangements to avoid unnecessary contact with others, especially if you are not feeling well.
  8. If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Call ahead to let the healthcare facility know you are on your way and specify your symptoms. Put on a mask upon entering the healthcare facility so as not to infect others.
  9. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Keep surfaces clean in your immediate environment at home and work. This includes counter tops, doorknobs, cabinet handles, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, computer keyboards, remote controls, telephones, toys, etc. Make sure to use an EPA-registered disinfectant approved under the EPA’s Emerging Pathogen Policy, such as Clorox Commercial Solutions Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes.
  10. Manage your stress. Coping with a large-scale outbreak can be scary. Ways to manage stress include eating healthy, drink plenty of water, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and talking to someone you trust.

Just like other emergencies that can occur at any time, we can similarly prepare for SARS-CoV-2 at home and at work. With an outbreak such as this, it’s important to keep in mind that it can last for several months. This is a good time to dust off your emergency kits and take an inventory of the contents. Replace batteries and other outdated items as needed. Other considerations include the following:3-5

  • Find out how your local public health agency will share information and updates.
  • Stock up on a supply of food staples and household supplies such as laundry detergent, bathroom items, and diapers if you have a baby.
  • Make sure you have at least a one-month supply of prescription medications and over-the-counter medications for managing cold and flu symptoms.
  • Consider back-up plans for in the event of public closures such as school or daycare. Such plans should not include gathering in groups in other locations. The idea is to slow transmission through close contact in large groups. Also, consider talking to your employer to adjust your work schedule or work remote in the event of school/daycare closures.
  • Have a plan for caring for elderly relatives and neighbors.
  • Coordinate with your neighbors to help each other out in the event that a single household is under quarantine such as dropping off groceries.

In conclusion, knowledge is powerful. Stay informed, prepare and stay well. 

References:

  1. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s-0303-Additional-COVID-19-infections.html 
  2. CDC COVID-19 Response Call, March 4, 2020, Dr. Jay Butler-Deputy Director of Infectious Diseases.
  3. CDC:  https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6908e1.htm  
  4. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2018-2019.html
  5. WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
  6. Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/2020/coronavirus-safety-and-readiness-tips-for-you.html
  7. Public Health Insider: https://publichealthinsider.com/2020/02/24/what-happens-if-the-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-spreads-here-a-conversation-with-our-health-officer/