Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has become a true pandemic that started in China and has now spread to 172 countries so far.
It spreads through direct contact and community-wide exposure. As of March 20, it has infected over 242,000 people worldwide and caused more than 10,000 deaths, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University. Also as of that date, the United States had more than 11,500 confirmed cases with 186 deaths nationwide attributed to COVID-19.
This crisis has caused an enormous amount of pain and suffering to individuals and negatively impacted businesses financially. Almost everyone is being affected in some way. COVID-19 continues to devastate countries like South Korea, Iran and Italy, where death tolls rose rapidly. The new epicenter has moved to European countries now. Italy’s death toll has surpassed China’s.
Areas of commerce adversely affected include the travel industry, major sports, restaurants, etc. Even prayer services at most mosques, synagogues and churches have been canceled. Any gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged per Centers for Disease Control and Protection edicts. Social distancing and self-quarantine methods are being instituted as a means to prevent spread of the virus.
Major focus has been placed on nursing home patients who are mostly elderly with many health conditions. They are immuno-compromised and considered the most vulnerable in our society. For their protection, new stringent measures are being taken by the CDC. Family members are not allowed to visit their loved ones in these facilities. Physicians assessing their patients must have their temperature taken and attest that they are free of any sign and symptom of illness. Routine doctor office appointments are being canceled. Hospitals are curtailing family visits and prioritizing surgeries in order to be ready for any challenge related to COVID-19.
Currently the most important task is to flatten the curve. It means to slow down the spread of virus and decrease the death toll. If doubling of the death toll continues, then within 33 days the toll may exceed a million cases. This will create a war-like situation. Major steps proposed by government and local authorities are to prevent that kind of catastrophe. With stringent measures we can flatten the curve and prevent it from spiraling out of control.
China has been very successful in combating the virus by strict measures taken. Their number of cases are leveling off and people are allowed to return to their homes and regular day-to-day activities.
Universal precautions still being promoted include frequent handwashing, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, maintain social distancing at 6 feet, and practice covering mouth and nose when coughing. Fist bumps and elbow rubs are better than a handshake or hugs. People should avoid crowded areas. Those with any symptoms should self-quarantine at home.
Testing supplies are still in short supply; therefore, patients must meet strict criteria before a lab test can be ordered for COVID-19. Testing is appropriate when a person has traveled to an international destination with a travel warning in the last 14 days or taken a cruise anywhere in the world in the last 14 days or has been in close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 14 days.
If someone has tested positive, they should stay home and isolate themselves from others. They should only go to the emergency room if their overall condition deteriorates, like increasing shortness of breath, a high grade fever, etc. You are encouraged to call ahead to let the hospital know you are on your way so they can take proactive measures to prevent exposure to other personnel. Hospitalized patients with fever and respiratory failure who have no other alternative diagnosis should be tested for coronavirus.
Studies by hospitals are estimating the risk and extent of the infection spread in the coming days and preparing accordingly. The situation has the potential of getting much worse for many months before it will get better. More rooms are being prepared for housing these cases, more testing kits are being ordered and more ventilator equipment is being procured.
COVID-19 is the test of our time that requires everyone’s patience, cooperation, diligence and a common sense approach in combating this worldwide pandemic. We, as a community, must band together to try to look out for people who may need some help – whether they are our families, friends or neighbors. We are all in this together.
Dr. Anis Ansari, Clinton, President, MercyOne Medical Staff Clinton