What You Need to Know about the Novel Coronavirus 

By Katie E. Golden, MD

We have all been inundated with updates about the daily spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and it can be hard to keep up with the flood of information from media, government officials, and medical professionals. As the frontline of emergency medical care for the people of Charlotte, we are devoting this month’s blog article to helping our community prepare for the likely spread of the illness, and answering important questions for our patients and the general public.

The most important message is for everyone to stay calm and employ the simple and effective ways to keep yourself healthy. In the event you or a loved one contracts the infection, we provide simple guidelines for care below.

So let’s cut to the chase, and dispel some rumors and common misconceptions about the disease.

What are the best ways to prevent the spread of disease?

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets. When someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, these droplets typically land on a surface 3-6 feet away. The virus can survive on these surfaces for hours to days. The risk of infection is highest when someone touches a surface with an active virus, then introduces it into their own body (typically by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth). The risk of getting an infection by directly inhaling an airborne respiratory droplet is much, much lower.

With these simple facts in mind, this is how you can protect yourself and slow the spread of the infection in your surrounding community:

  • Wash your hands EFFECTIVELY and OFTEN. While this may seem like a basic skill we all learned in preschool, most of us do not do this properly. The best way to clean your hands is with soap and water, with continuous washing for 20 seconds (count it out, it is a lot longer than it seems).
  • Do not rely on hand sanitizers. Products containing over 60% alcohol may be effective, but only if the hands are not dirty or greasy, and it is less effective than traditional hand washing.
  • STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACE. This is harder than it sounds and is often done reflexively and unconsciously. The virus is most likely to enter the body when we touch our eyes, nose, and mouth with an unwashed hand.
  • If you are healthy, the masks are not helpful. They are more likely to ruin your makeup than protect you. Not only is it unlikely you will get sick by inhaling a respiratory droplet, but viruses are teeny tiny and a traditional face mask is not engineered to protect against a particle that small. The masks are only recommended for symptomatic patients who are actively coughing.

What are the symptoms of infection?

As with any infection, the symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from patient to patient. The virus seems to have the greatest impact on the lower respiratory tract (aka lungs, rather than nose and throat) and typically the symptoms are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath.

What do I do if I develop these symptoms?

If you develop signs of illness, do not worry. There are basic and simple guidelines you can follow to care for yourself and those around you.

  • Remember that the COV-19 symptoms are very similar to the cold or flu, and these infections are still very common and may be the source of your illness.
  • Stay home! Do not go to work, school, or public areas (such as grocery stores, gyms, etc).
  • If you feel you need evaluation by a doctor, many doctor’s offices are offering telephone consults for patients with symptoms. Check your primary care clinic’s website or call the office to learn more about your options for an electronic visit. Many insurance companies also offer telehealth services through their website.
  • Please see below for reasons you should seek emergent medical care.
  • There is no specific treatment for the virus, and it is safe and recommended that patients use the same medicines that they would typically use for a cold or flu to alleviate symptoms:
      • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin) to help with fever and body aches
      • Decongestants (such as Claritin-D)
      • Anti-cough medicine
      • Prescribed inhalers or breathing treatments as directed by a doctor if you have an underlying lung condition (such as asthma or COPD)
  • Widespread testing is not yet readily available, and only done at public health laboratories and the CDC. Do not leave your home in search of testing.
  • If you are sick, make sure you cover your mouth whenever you cough or sneeze (preferably not with your hand, but with tissues or your elbow), and follow the hygiene guidelines above.

When should I come to the ER?

The CDC and local public health officials are urging people with symptoms to stay home to prevent the spread of infection to the surrounding community. That being said, no one should hesitate to seek urgent medical care for severe symptoms. If you or a loved one is experiencing significant chest pain, difficulty breathing, inability to hold down fluids or hydrate, or changes in mental state (such as confusion or excessive lethargy), then emergent medical evaluation is warranted. Please be sure to alert paramedics or ER staff immediately of these symptoms, so a mask can be placed on the patient as soon as possible.

Additional information from the CDC can be found below:

  • For general information about COVID-19, click here
  • For information on what to do you if you are suspected or confirmed to have the virus, click here