Dr. Hanh Le, Senior Director of Medical Affairs, Healthline Media, responds to consumer concerns regarding coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Is the U.S. prepared to respond to COVID-19?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, our quarantine efforts and efforts around preparing tertiary care centers have given us a runway that will hopefully set us up for success as we prepare for more cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. However, not every hospital, doctor, nurse, or clinic is prepared should a patient with COVID-19 show up in the average U.S. community. Also, we currently don’t have a vaccine or an established treatment option for COVID-19.
It is still very important for each person to be educated about how to protect themselves from COVID-19. If someone has traveled to Asia or thinks they’ve been exposed to someone who might have COVID-19, they should notify their clinic before going in. Prior notification minimizes the transmission risk. This way the person can arrange for testing and then seek medical attention.
What is the most trusted source for information (other than Healthline Media)?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the primary source of medical information in the U.S., particularly as it relates to communicable diseases and epidemics. The CDC also works closely with the World Health Organization to track cases and persons of interest. The White House is informed by the CDC and HHS.
Any advice for those who are most at-risk?
Because the epidemic is not yet controlled, people are recommended not to travel to areas where there are high concentrations of the infection. (See Travel below.) Also, if you do not need to be in crowded, high-density areas, it’s be best to avoid them. Caution is especially advised for older adults or people with a compromised immune system from such conditions as cancer, diabetes, or HIV, or from medications that suppress the immune system.
There are no medications or vaccines at this time that could mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
How long will a vaccine take to be made and to be effective?
Despite rapid vaccination methodologies that are being tested, current estimates are that a vaccine may not be available until later this year at the earliest.
How to spot COVID-19?
It can be quite difficult as many who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms. Symptoms could be mild (like the common cold) to quite severe (severe cough, difficulties breathing, shortness of breath).
Predictions on U.S. COVID-19 hot zones?
So far, we’ve seen cases in the cities that are travel hubs, e.g., San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago, though we have also seen cases in lower density areas in people who have traveled from areas where the infection originated.
What to do if you think you have it?
If you think you have COVID-19, contact your doctor or clinic warning them that you might have it, which would allow them to prepare for your visit. These preparations might include contacting the CDC for proper testing and transmission mitigation strategies.
**What should you do if you’re sick?
**Stay home! You could have the common flu or COVID-19. Either way, practicing “social distancing” will help slow down and decrease the rate of transmission in the community. For parents who wish to employ additional measures, it is understandable and appropriate to avoid large gatherings, especially with young children, if they can be avoided.
How could COVID-19 be spread at work?
Like with other communicable airborne illnesses, COVID-19 is spread from coughing, sneezing, or talking as the virus travels through respiratory drops. Current data suggests that the virus may also survive on surfaces for several hours, if not days, but we do not know definitively yet.
What can parents do to protect their children?
As with adults, children should practice good handwashing hygiene: wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use antibacterial gel that has at least 60% alcohol.
At this point, documented cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have been quarantined. We haven’t seen COVID-19 in the general community, so there are no advisories in the U.S. that would affect a family’s day-to-day activity.
Because COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to anyone who is immunocompromised, it is a good idea to make sure that parents keep up with their children’s vaccination schedule as any condition or illness that could make the child sick could lower the child’s immune system and ability to fight off other infections. Do what you can to keep your children healthy in general.
For general anxiety and fear
The current information suggests that, for the vast majority of people, the infection behaves much like the flu with mild symptoms and complete resolution. It may also be an infection that develops seasonality with waxes and wanes. Here are some key takeaways:
- We likely will start to see more cases in more countries, but that does NOT mean that we’ll see an increase in deaths. As with seasonal flu, we see global spread.
- With more cases of people recovering, there is hope that we will be able to determine how and who can naturally recover while we develop a vaccine for prevention.
What about San Francisco’s state of emergency?
On Tuesday, February 25, San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in San Francisco, where HLM is headquartered. It is important to note that this declaration is not the result of any documented cases in San Francisco. Rather, it is a preemptive move as San Francisco is a travel hub with frequent travelers from Asia. San Francisco city officials hope the state of emergency declaration will enable resources and personnel to be deployed as rapid response measures if COVID-19 cases are seen in the city.
How to treat someone with COVID-19?
Currently, for healthy, young people, treatment is generally supportive therapies and antivirals, though it is unclear whether any treatment is truly successful.
What if you’re traveling?
Buy travel insurance to cover yourself if you have trips planned!
The CDC has issued Level 3 and Level 2 Travel Alerts:
Level 3: avoid all nonessential travel to China and South Korea
Level 2: enhanced travel precautions recommended for Japan
And finally, mindset shift
We should shift our mindset from fear-based “prevent ANY entry into the U.S.” to recognition that there are already cases here and we should all do everything possible to limit transmission, just like we would with any communicable disease.