By Daniela Appel
While the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (known as COVID-19) is quickly evolving event, it is important to understand that communities play a major role in controlling the virus, starting at the level of each individual. While most are not accustomed to the commonly used terms by health care workers, news outlets and government officials, it is important to familiarize oneself in order to help contain the spread of disease:
An epidemic is an outbreak of a disease that spreads rapidly, but is usually contained to one area, population or region.
A pandemic is when an epidemic spreads beyond the region of origin, typically worldwide.
Flattening the Curve
The “curve” is a graphical representation of the theoretical, predicted number of people who will be infected. The steeper the curve, the quicker the spread and the more likely a health care system will become overwhelmed with cases and will struggle to treat people. “Flattening the curve” means slowing infection rate and, therefore, helps health care workers be able to treat more of those who need medical care. The only way to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 is through community based, collective action, as there is no disease specific treatment as of right now.
State of emergency
Federal, state and local governments have declared a state of emergency as the novel coronavirus has begun to spread more quickly. This allows government leaders at different levels to implement and enforce different, at times stricter, measures to help slow the spread of the virus. This also allows for more aid to communities on a Federal level.
On a societal level, social distancing means limiting gatherings of groups of people, especially crowds. It has meant canceling large-scale events such as sporting events, cruises and festivals. Social distancing means increasing the physical space between people, at least 6 feet, and staying home as much as possible. Depending on what county you live in in North Texas, the rules might be different. In Dallas County, gatherings outside of one’s home and outside of an essential business are not allowed.
Those who have been exposed to COVID-19, those at significant risk of contracting the illness, and those who have traveled to a region with increased levels of illness are strongly encouraged to self-quarantine for at least 14 days. This means practicing good measures of hygiene such as frequent hand-washing and disinfecting practices, staying home with no visitors, and maintaining 6 feet of distance between members of the household.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses whose defining feature is the crownlike spikes on the surface of the virus itself. Coronaviruses mostly infect animals, but at times spread to humans. These viruses induce upper respiratory symptoms in humans ranging from mild to severe in presentation, varying from the common cold to the more severe cases of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and finally, COVID-19.
COVID-19 (which stands for coronavirus disease 2019 and is caused by a virus by the name of SARS-CoV-2) is a novel, meaning new, outbreak and is believed to have originated in late 2019 at a meat and poultry market in Wuhan, China. It is now known that human coronavirus commonly spreads through coughing and sneezing, contact such as shaking hands, and touching an infected surface, then touching one’s mouth, nose or ears.
Symptoms may include cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Most develop mild symptoms and recover with no complications. However, those with preexisting medical conditions may be more at risk to develop more severe complications that may lead to death.
Based on currently available information, there are groups of individuals at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and developing severe and life threatening symptoms: those 65 and older, those who reside in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, people who are pregnant, and those with medical conditions such as asthma and other chronic lung diseases, serious heart conditions, diabetes, and those who are immunocompromised due to treatments such as chemotherapy or other health conditions such as HIV and AIDS.
Efforts such as self-quarantine, social distancing and “sheltering in place” (meaning not leaving one’s place of residence aside for essential tasks such as maintaining supplies or seeking essential medical care), and measures of good hygiene are all ways of containing the spread of the new coronavirus and helping to “flatten the curve.”
N95 respirator face mask
Face masks such as N95 respirators and surgical facemasks are measures to protect one from contracting illness, however, should only be used by those who are healthy if taking care of someone with suspected COVID-19 or if one is coughing or sneezing and is sick. It is imperative to know how to use the mask and dispose of it properly. It is imperative to place a facemask over both your nose and mouth and ensure that there are minimal gaps between the mask and your face. To dispose, do not touch the front of the mask, and place in a secured plastic bag and dispose of it into a trashcan. Make sure to wash your hands after disposal and before replacing the mask. Replace mask when it becomes humid, damp or visibly soiled.
By Daniela Appel