UPDATE 16 March 2020: Governor Hogan has implemented strict closures and limits on gatherings in Maryland. At 5pm today 16 March 2020, bars and restaurants will be closing and only drive thru service, carryout, and food delivery will be available. Gyms and movie theaters will also be closing. This are closures in addition to the others related to casinos, racetracks, and simulcast gambling. This will last at least 2 weeks.
The US has finally embraced the concept of social distancing. Hopefully, this will slow the rate of spread of the virus through our communities, so that the healthcare systems are not overwhelmed and unnecessary deaths are prevented.
But, what do we do now? What happens if we start to feel sick? If you are young and otherwise healthy, there is no reason for major concern. If you are older (over 60 years old), have serious underlying health conditions, or have a compromised immune system due medication, illness, or genetic condition, then the situation is more serious.
We keep hearing about flattening the curve and not overwhelming the healthcare system. Ok... How do we avoid that?
If you are young and otherwise healthy and you develop symptoms of COVID-19, like fever, dry cough, and fatigue, what should you do?
I live in Maryland, and the recommendations are likely regionally different in the US and are definitely different in other countries. Some states are started drive-up testing sites to limit exposure in healthcare offices. In Maryland, here is what the State Health Department recommends as of 13 March 2020:
- Before you go, call your doctor, emergency room, or urgent care clinic
- Tell them about recent travel and close contacts (such as people in your household)
- Wear a mask (if one is available and when in the presence of other people)
Here is what CDC recommends:
- Stay home (except to get medical care)
- Do not go to work or school or public places
- Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-sharing (Given that some people don’t drive, this is not helpful advice if you need to see your healthcare provider or get tested. So, I would add, if you do, sit as far away from others as possible. If you have a mask, wear it.)
- Stay away from other people and pets
- Stay in a specific room as much as possible
- Use a separate bathroom
- Limit contact with pets and animals (I would add that there is no evidence that you can infect your pet cat or dog.)
- Call ahead before visiting the doctor or healthcare provider
- Tell your healthcare provider that you think you may have COVID-19 or the coronavirus
- Wear a face mask if you are in the presence of other people
- For most people, the symptoms will be fever, dry cough, and fatigue.
- Most people will not require hospitalization and will recover at home.
The reason it is important to notify your doctor, healthcare provider, or medical facility is so that testing can be done to track the spread of the disease, and so you can avoid spreading it to others. It is not necessarily because you will require hospitalization.
Fortunately, the CDC has now ensured that all testing will be freely available to all Americans, so the cost of testing is no longer a barrier.
What if your condition worsens or you have trouble breathing?
If you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, this could be a sign of pneumonia. This is more serious and could require hospitalization. Contact your hospital or doctor right away. If you call 911, notify them that you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are having trouble breathing.
What if you are older than 60, have a serious underlying medical condition (diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, cancer), or are immune compromised and start to have symptoms?
Older patients and individuals who have severe underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild. If you have severe symptoms, such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips of face, contact your healthcare provider or emergency room and seek care immediately. --CDC
The CDC website has many other recommendations for what to do if you have COVID-19. These include instructions for reducing the spread of the disease by
- Covering coughs and sneezes with tissues and washing hands after
- Instructions for effective handwashing
- When and how to use hand sanitizer appropriately
- Avoid sharing personal items (dishes, utensils, cups, bedding, towels)
- Cleaning areas that are touched often (I would add, especially those touched multiple people, such as remote controls, refrigerator doors, light switches)
- Monitoring symptoms
- When it is ok to discontinue home isolation
What to do if you are sick. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html and Fact Sheet PDF https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/sick-with-2019-nCoV-fact-sheet.pdf. CDC (accessed 13 March 2020)
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#symptoms (accessed 13 March 2020)
Coronavirus FAQs. MD State Health Department. https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/Documents/coronavirus_FAQ.pdf (accessed 13 March 2020)