Precautions for COVID-19
As news changes daily while the virus spreads in communities across the U.S., many of us are afraid and anxious about how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic. In this article, I highlight information from health experts about the illness, people at greatest risk, protection steps, and working with your doctor to create a plan.
Visit the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) COVID-19 webpage for the latest updates and guidance.
Symptoms of COVID-19
COVID-19 can be a mild illness (where people don’t even know they are sick), or it can have severe (or deadly) impacts on patients. Unfortunately, the symptoms look like cold or flu, so it cannot be easily diagnosed. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.1
What should I do if I develop symptoms?
If you develop symptoms, health experts recommend calling your doctor and not immediately traveling to a clinic or emergency room. Doctors can help assess your situation over the phone and provide guidance. However, definitely seek swift medical attention if symptoms are worsening, such as if you experience difficulty breathing (or shortness of breath), persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or if lips or face have bluish hue, as these are serious warning signs.
What groups are at-risk for COVID-19?
The CDC has determined that some people are at higher risk of significant illness, including:2
- Older adults (age 60+) and
- People with serious chronic conditions (like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease).
- People with compromised immune systems have also been identified as having a higher risk.
These groups should be extra vigilant and consider taking additional protection steps.
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
According to the CDC, the virus is transmitted primarily from person-to-person through close contact (within 6 feet) when respiratory droplets from an infected person coughs or sneezes.3 These droplets can land on the mouths or noses of other people and can be inhaled into the lungs where they multiply.3
How to protect yourself
The CDC has helpful tips on steps individuals can take to protect themselves.3
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds (or about the length of singing “Happy Birthday” twice). See this (CDC video about hand washing.)
- If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.
But there’s additional steps we can take to protect others (or ask others to take to help protect us):
- Stay home if you’re sick. (Pretty please! Consider the terrible cost of infecting someone else, especially in the vulnerable populations.)
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash. If a tissue isn’t readily available, using your elbow is next best. Then wash your hands immediately after.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects, like doorknobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, sink handles, and so forth (such as arms of wheelchairs that people unexpectedly grab).
Practice social distancing
Of course, the best way to not get sick is to not be exposed. But with community spread of COVID-19, it is getting increasingly difficult to ensure we don’t have contact with the germs. Practicing some social distancing can help slow the rate of infection.
Individuals need to consider what they can do for social distancing, but the concept is simply to avoid close contact with other people.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Put distance between yourself and other people if the virus is being transmitted in your community. This could mean not attending large gatherings of people (such as conferences, church, concerts, etc.) This could also mean telecommuting (if possible) to avoid commuting and workplace exposures. In addition, it may include canceling travel plans like airplane flights and cruises. This could even mean eliminating leaving the home or largely reducing going out in the community.
The CDC has recommended people at high risk of getting very sick should do all these things and stock up on supplies for staying at home.2
COVID-19 and rheumatoid arthritis
When infections started to appear in my local area, I contacted my rheumatologist to ask for his guidance. While I was educated about CDC recommendations as part of my day job, I wanted his perspective because he knows my health history. Every individual has specific circumstances for their health and community, so it is important to get the best guidance for your case.
Moving to telework
Since I am immune-compromised with my RA treatment (by taking a biologic and prednisone) and have had a previous history of serious infections (including respiratory), he advised that I move to telework for the time being. I was able to make this arrangement with my supervisor and provide a letter from my doctor.
As the situation progresses, I’ll continue to assess how much I may be able to go out into the community. For example, at the moment I’m continuing to go to doctors’ appointments and my aquatic therapy as these outings are important for maintaining my health in general. But I may soon limit myself to my home to avoid possible infection.
Making a plan with my doctor should I get sick
My next mission is to make a plan with my doctor should I get sick. I am certain he will want me to call right away should I have symptoms. If they are mild, he will likely recommend that I stay at home. But if they were to worsen, I need to know what he wants me to do.
In the meantime, the CDC has thorough recommendations if people get sick and how to monitor their condition.
We’re all feeling anxious about the COVID-19 and may already know people affected or recovering. The best defense is good information and solid preventive measures. Keep track of updates from health experts like the CDC (note: new information is being posted regularly), and be sure to track local news and health department guidance.
Have you gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet?