What is COVID-19?
What is COVID-19 and who is at risk?
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus that had not previously been seen in humans. Because it is a new virus, we are learning more about it each day and making modifications as we go.
What we do know so far is that most people that are infected by this virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without special treatment. Additionally, although older individuals and those with underlying medical problems like hypertension, diabetes, cancer or chronic respiratory disease are more likely to develop serious illness, studies and reports to date show that anyone can be seriously ill from contracting this disease and individuals ranging from 2 months of age to 113 years old, have been reported to have died from COVID-19. What this means is that we are all collectively responsible for slowing the spread of this disease.
How does COVID-19 spread?
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person to person, and especially between people who are physically within 6 feet of each other. The virus can also spread by airborne transmission such as when an individual is exposed to the virus in small droplets and particles that linger in the air for minutes to hours. This method can infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the infected individual or after the infected person has left a space. This is why scientists recommend that we wear face masks everywhere and especially when we are in-doors.
A third and less common way that COVID-19 is believed to spread is through contact with contaminated surfaces. Air droplets, say from a sneeze, can land on surfaces and objects. Because of this, it is possible that a person could get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own nose, eyes or mouth. Although this mode of spreading is less common, scientists still recommend that you wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds at a time or use hand sanitizers.
Symptoms to Watch For:
COVID-19 can present with a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe illness. Symptoms may appear between 2-14 days initial exposure to the virus and may include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath of difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
You should consider seeking emergency medical attention when you or anyone around you is showing of these signs:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- NOTE: this is not all the possible symptoms, so please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or cause you concern
Before going to the hospital for a suspected case of COVID-19, call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility and notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.
For help deciding when to seek appropriate medical care for a suspected case of COVID-19, use the following CDC self-checker tool: CDC COVID Self-checker
What can you do to protect yourself and others?
As we continue to learn that anyone of any age can die from COVID-19, the best way to prevent the illness is to first avoid being exposed to the virus. Scientists recommend the following steps to slow the spread and reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19:
- Stay at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible
- Cover your mouth and nose with a mask whenever you leave your home or are around others that you do not live with
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time. If soap and water are not immediately available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol
- Avoid crowded indoor spaces and if you have to be indoors, ensure that these spaces are properly ventilated by bringing in outdoor air as much as possible (i.e., by leaving the door open or opening a window)
- Stay home and isolate from others when you notice symptoms or think that you may have been exposed
- Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (i.e., door knobs, countertops…etc.)
What to do if you get sick or if someone in your house gets sick with COVID-19?
Most people who get COVID-19 will be able to recover at home and the CDC has provided the following guidelines for what to do in this situation. These include:
- Stay home except to get medical care:
- Since most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care, it is recommended that while experiencing symptoms, you should not leave your home and you should not visit public areas.
- Take care of yourself by getting rest and staying hydrated. Take over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen (I.e., Tylenol)
- Stay in touch with your doctor and call before you get medical care. Make sure to watch out for any emergency warning signs of worsening COVID-19 symptoms such as difficulty breathing.
- Separate yourself from other people
- If you are living with other people and if it is possible to do so, try and stay in a specific room, use a separate bathroom and away from other people and pets in your home.
- If you are unable to stay away from others in your home, wear a mask indoors
- After confirming your symptoms, be sure to tell your close contacts/people you have had recent physical contact with, that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
- An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours before they show any symptoms or test positive, so by letting close contacts know that they may have been exposed, they can also start taking extra precaution to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others.
For people living in close quarters that make it difficult to fully separate from others (I.e., those sharing a small apartment or for people living with large or extended families), the CDC provides the following recommendations:
- Everyone should limit risks: if your home includes one or more vulnerable individuals, then all family members should act as if they are at higher risk and take extra precautions
- Limit errands: family members should leave only when absolutely necessary (I.e., for essential errands such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy or medical appointments that cannot be delayed). If you must leave the house, make sure to do the following:
- Choose one or two family members who are not at higher risk for COVID-19 to run the essential errands
- Wear a mask, avoid crowds, practice social distancing (I.e., staying 6-foot away from others). Additional tips for safely running errands can be found here
- When possible, use forms of transportation that minimize contact with others (I.e., biking, walking, driving or riding by car alone or with only other household members)
If you must use public transportation:
- Maintain a 6-foot distance from other passengers
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces (I.e., handrails) and use hand sanitizers as soon as possible after leaving the transport
- Try to commute during less busy times; this way you’re likely to have more space to distance from others
- Clean your hands with soap and water as soon as you return home from your trip
If you must use rideshare with others not from your household:
- Limit close contact and create space between you and others in the vehicle as much as possible
- Open the window or ask to place the AC on non-recirculation mode so as to improve the air flow in the care
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after your return home
- After your return, maintain as much physical distance as possible with those at higher risk from COVID-19 in the home by avoiding hugs, kisses or sharing food or drinks.
Avoid caring for children and those who are sick:
- vulnerable household members who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid caring for the children in the household. If this is unavoidable, the children in their care should not have contact with anyone outside of the household.
- Additionally, those family members that are at higher risk of catching COVID-19 should avoid taking care of any sick person of any age in the house.
Separate a household member who is sick:
- if it is possible to do so, provide a separate bedroom and bathroom for the person who is sick.
- If this is not possible, try to separate the sick person from other household members as much as possible, especially from those that are at higher risk of COVID-19.
- If possible, have only one person in the household take care of the person who is sick. This caregiver should be someone who is not at higher risk for COVID-19 and who can minimize contact with other household members
- If possible, maintain 6-feet between the person who is sick, their caregiver and other household members
- If limited space, means that you have to share a bedroom with the sick person, make sure that the room has good air flow
- Open a window and turn on a fan to bring in and circulate fresh air
- Maintain at least 6-feet between beds or sleeping positions if possible
- Sleep head to toe if sharing a bed
- Put a curtain around or other physical divider to create separation between the sick person’s bed and yours
- Similarly, if you have to share a bathroom with the sick person, the person who is sick should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the bathroom after each use. If this is not possible, the person who does the cleaning should:
- Open outside doors and windows before entering the bathroom and should use ventilating fans to increase air circulation in the bathroom
- Wait as long as possible before entering the bathroom to clean and disinfect or to use the bathroom
- If a household member is sick with COVID-19, they should not be in-charge of preparing food for other household members and should also consider eating separately from others in the home.
- Monitor your symptoms
- COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion and others
Seek medical attention when the following warning signs appear:
- Trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- Wear a mask over your mouth and nose
- If you must be around other people or animals including pets at home, you should wear a mask over your nose AND mouth
- You don’t need to wear a mask if you are alone
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Cover your mouth AND nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Throw away used tissues in a lined trash can
- Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is not immediately available, you can clean your hands with hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid sharing personal household items
- Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people in your home if you are sick
- Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water or put them in the dishwater after you’ve finished using them
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your “sick-room” and bathroom. Let someone else in the household clean and disinfect common areas
- If the sick individual is unable to clean their bedroom or bathroom themselves, another person can do so on an as-needed basis. When they do so, they should wear a mask and disposable gloves prior to entering the room and cleaning. They should wait as long as possible after the sick individual has used the bathroom before going in to clean or use that bathroom
- Note: high-touch surfaces include: phones, remote controls, countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.
- Clean and disinfect areas that may have blood stool or other body fluids on them
- Use both household cleaners and disinfectants
- Clean the area/surface with soap and water if dirty, then use a household disinfectant (making sure to follow use instructions to ensure safe and effective use of the product).
For a complete guide on how to effectively disinfect your home and surfaces, click here