What is the “novel coronavirus?”
This is a newly detected strain of coronavirus. It has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the illness it causes is called “coronavirus disease 2019” or “COVID-19”. Though the virus was first detected in China, it can be transmitted to and from anyone like other viruses. Common colds are caused by coronaviruses, as are other respiratory illnesses which we have seen outbreaks of in the past, including SARS and MERS.
How is SARS-CoV-2 transmitted?
The virus is thought to spread from person-to-person contact between those in close contact with one another, or through respiratory droplets when a person sneezes. It may be possible to transmit the virus from a contaminated surface, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Where should I go for information?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a COVID-19 website that is regularly updated. The link to the site is https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
You can also follow community and global tracking with the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Global Cases Dashboard: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
The clinical and administrative teams throughout the UW Health System, in one of the hardest hit areas of the United States, have developed policies and protocols and created an online repository of information at the UW Medicine COVID-19 Resource Site: https://covid-19.uwmedicine.org/Pages/default.aspx
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has developed an online COVID-19 Resource Center with useful information for providers: https://www.idsociety.org/public-health/COVID-19-Resource-Center/
As a patient with an underlying lung or health issue, what precautions should I be taking?
It’s also flu season, which has already been far more deadly this season. This means precautions normally recommended for patients like you are useful here:
- Get a flu vaccine (if you are able to and haven’t already)
- Make sure you do your airway clearance daily as prescribed by your physician
- Avoid people who are sick (if someone in your home is sick, keep them isolated as much as possible until they are well again)
- Stay home if you are sick (not just for this but for any illness, and stay isolated from others as much as possible)
- Wash your hands (a LOT) with soap and water
- Don’t touch any part of your face with unwashed hands
- Clean surfaces in your home and office regularly
- Cover your cough! (And your sneeze!) More on that below…
- Practice good hygiene everywhere, especially if you must travel (more on that below…)
I often cough into tissues when clearing my lungs. What should I do differently?
If you are coughing up sputum and clearing your lungs, you should do as you normally do, and dispose of the tissues and wash your hands after. If you are sneezing or coughing without expectorating, bend your arm and raise it so the inside of your elbow covers your mouth and nose; this way, you are not getting germs on your hands. Click here for an illustration of Cover Your Cough.
Why do I have to sing when I wash my hands?
Well, you don’t. You can hum. Or count. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. (If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water at that moment, alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will do until you can get to a sink and soap.) Other songs that work: The Alphabet Song, the first two verses of the Star-Spangled Banner, or if you want to be sure you’re really clean, all of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. If you have other suggestions, feel free to let us know!
Should I cancel my travel plans?
Most likely. Unless it is absolutely essential that you go, you should stay home and self-isolate as much as possible. At this time, most areas of the United States have placed restrictions on bigger gatherings and there are significant restrictions on travel; leaders in the federal government recently recommended limiting groups to no more than 10. In addition, older adults as well as people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause suppression of immune system, are at a high risk of serious disease if infected with the novel coronavirus. The CDC recommends that such individuals avoid situations that increase their risk of acquiring infections. This entails avoiding crowded places and non-essential travel. You should discuss any travel plans with your doctor before you go. In the case of SARS-CoV-19, there are certain parts of the world for which the CDC has recommended travel restrictions, and you can learn about those here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
Why am I being told to get enough of my daily medications to last two weeks or longer?
Making sure you have an extra supply of your regular medications is part of emergency preparedness. In the case of a public health issue, the reason to stock up isn’t so much to avoid potential shortages as it is to practice what experts call “social distancing.” Essentially this means avoiding crowds to minimize risk of exposure. Just as with a bad flu season that has an outbreak in your community, you would want to avoid standing in lines at crowded drugstores.
Why am I being advised to stock up on bottled water and non-perishable foods?
Just as with stocking up on your medications, the idea for this is social distancing. Similarly, it’s advisable to avoid standing in lines at crowded supermarkets. If there’s an outbreak of a disease in your community, you can reduce the amount of time you spend in public by having non-perishable foods available. You may also want to have electrolyte drinks on hand in case you or someone in your family gets sick.
While I’m avoiding other people, what can I do to keep busy?
Plenty! If you’re able to walk outside or on a treadmill at home, you should – just make sure you keep an appropriate distance from other people. If you have an AmazonPrime membership, you also have access to thousands of videos that you can stream for free, from exercise and workout to movies and TV shows. Many cable and satellite service providers also have programs and movies that are available for free on demand. And check out our list of things you can do online right now, from virtual museum and gallery tours to coloring pages and more!
Why has the governor of my state declared a state of emergency?
By declaring a state of emergency, a state government triggers an array of actions and authorities by state and/or local governments to help manage a crisis such as a public health issue. This includes mobilization of emergency response plans and centers at the local and state levels, and it also is one of the steps in requesting federal aid. Declaring a state of emergency ahead of an actual event is not unheard of, and in fact is often helpful; in the State of Florida, for example, it is typical for the Governor to declare a state of emergency before a hurricane makes landfall, as this ensures that necessary aid and response tools are already in place to mobilize as soon as the storm has passed. By declaring a state of emergency now, government can mobilize resources to respond quickly when new cases appear and help mitigate the potential spread of the disease.