We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic as the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Based on science, here are some things you need to know to protect yourself and others from coronavirus (COVID-19).
The new coronavirus is a highly contagious virus known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It causes a disease called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
COVID-19 infects the respiratory system, resulting in pneumonia that may progress to a life-threatening condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This is not at all like the regular flu. The elderly and those with chronic diseases or suppressed immune systems are at the highest risk. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
The greatest threat occurs when inflammation and fluid fill the air sacs in the lungs, making breathing difficult and depriving the blood of oxygen. Such oxygen deprivation can cause other injuries, including heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure.
Due to inadequate testing of the population, the death rate in the U.S is not yet known. However, health disparities are becoming apparent. For example, In Chicago, a disproportionate number of deaths are occurring in black communities. A WBEZ analysis published on April 5, 2020, found that 70% of Chicagoans who have died from COVID-19 were black, whereas black people make up 29% of Chicago’s population. The majority of black patients who died of COVID-19 also experienced underlying chronic medical conditions, such as respiratory problems, diabetes, or hypertension.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chills with shivering (rigors)
- Copious sweating
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Loss of smell or taste
How is the disease transmitted?
- The virus spreads mainly from person-to-person.
- An infected person who coughs, sneezes (or simply talks) produces infectious respiratory droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of others.
- People may get infected by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
- Some infected individuals do not have any symptoms but can still spread the virus by being in close contact and breathing on others. Therefore, the CDC now recommends that people wear face masks in public and stay 6 feet apart (social distancing).
The majority of people experiencing COVID-19 can recover at home, but some will experience severe symptoms that require hospitalization for oxygen, a ventilator, and other supportive measures.
If you have any of the following emergency symptoms, call 911 and notify the dispatcher you have or may have COVID-19.
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain or pressure
- Blue-ish lips, face, fingertips
The Mayo Clinic COVID-19 Self Assessment Tool
The Mayo Clinic provides a very helpful COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool that you can use to assess your symptoms online and decide when to call the doctor.
Even if your symptoms are mild, you should still call your doctor for advice and testing. Many doctors provide telehealth visits. Do not go to the doctor’s office unless they instruct you to do so. If you are told to have an in-person appointment, wear a face mask to the appointment.
Reducing the Spread
Currently, there is no vaccine or proven treatment, so the top priority is to reduce the spread. Key public health strategies include good hygiene, disinfectants, face coverings, social distancing, quarantining exposed people, and isolating the sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water
- Avoid contact with people who are sick
- Stop touching your mouth, nose, and eyes
- Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home that you touch
- Stay home as much as possible and avoid crowds
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the general public wear fabric face coverings or fabric masks in public. Such face coverings should be made with multiple layers of fabric and fit snugly.
The U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams created this helpful tutorial video demonstrating how to make a multi-layer fabric face mask without sewing.
Due to the short supply, N95 respirator masks and surgical masks are reserved for healthcare personnel at this time.
- Stay at least 6 feet from other people
- No gathering in large groups or crowds
Stay at home
Currently, for most states, a Stay-At-Home Order is in place requiring individuals to stay in their homes unless they have an essential job. However, individuals can still leave home to fulfill their essential needs, such as:
- Obtaining groceries, necessary supplies, food, pet supplies, medicine, and take-out food while practicing social distancing
- Outdoor exercising while practicing social distancing by walking, running, biking at least 6 feet away from other people
- Attending appointments at the hospital, doctor, or mental health provider
- Visiting private businesses that offer essential services (pharmacy, hardware store, banks, and laundromats)
- Using city or state government services including fire and police
If someone must leave their home, they need to comply with social distancing (maintain 6 feet distance from others as much as possible).
If you are experiencing symptoms or are currently in isolation you should stay home and follow guidelines provided by your physician.
What is self-quarantine?
This is for people who might have been exposed to the virus but are not sick. This means staying at home except to get medical care. Someone else should deliver your food and supplies. You should separate yourself from others within the home (at least 6 feet distance); wear a face mask; wash your hands with soap and water often; clean surfaces and doorknobs often. Do not share dishes, utensils, and towels with others.
For COVID-19, the quarantine should last for 14 days from the exposure. If you are in self-quarantine and develop symptoms, contact your doctor and get tested.
What is Isolation?
This is for people who are suspected or confirmed to actually have the virus. If you have no symptoms or mild symptoms, you should stay at home except to get medical care. At home, you should self-isolate in a separate room away from other people in your home except to use the bathroom. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available. Avoid sharing dishes, utensils, and towels with others.
When someone enters the room, for example, to bring food, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear a face mask. Ideally use a medical-grade mask. If unavailable, use a fabric face covering. The caregiver should wear gloves and frequently wash their hands with soap and water as well as disinfect surfaces.
If you are sick and need to leave home for medical care, wear a facemask. If a person in isolation is hospitalized they are placed in an isolation unit. The doctor determines how long an individual needs to stay in isolation.
According to the CDC, Isolation can be discontinued when a person has two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart. When a person cannot get access to testing, the rule of thumb is to discontinue isolation if no fever is detected for at least 72 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine AND other symptoms are improved AND at least 7 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.
10 Ways to Strengthen your Immune System
Your immune system is your body’s defense system against disease. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to create healthier lifestyle choices in order to give yourself an edge. Here are 10 proven ways to effectively strengthen your immune system.
1. Stop smoking or vaping
Anything that harms the lungs increases the risk of complications.
2. Eat a healthy diet
a. Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory, high fiber, plant-based foods
Greens, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cooked mushrooms, raw garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, herbs, and more.
b. Eat foods that support your gut microbiome
Good bacteria in your colon regulate the immune system and help fight infections. Eat greens, beans, lentils, split peas, and fermented foods like sauerkraut.
c.Minimize processed foods, animal foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners
These can disrupt the microbiome and worsen inflammation.
3. Control your blood sugar
Poorly controlled diabetes impairs the immune system and promotes infections.
4. Engage in moderately intense exercise
Research shows that too little or too much exercise weakens the immune system. The most common recommendation is for people to engage in moderately intense exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, step aerobics, and jumping rope. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines recommend a minimum of 30 min 5 days a week. Each person is different, so check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
5. Get quality sleep
Adults need between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep. Both the quality and quantity of sleep matter. Poor sleep raises stress hormones that suppress the immune system. A 2015 study showed adults who get 7 hours are four times less likely to get colds than those who get less than 6 hours.
6. Reduce your stress
Stress causes serious harm to your health. Take breaks from the news; do something fun; meditate; practice yoga; write in a journal; connect with others via video calls. Seek professional help as needed for mental health.
7. Minimize (or avoid) alcohol
Doctors have long observed a link between excessive alcohol consumption and a weakened immune system, increased susceptibility to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndromes, and slower recovery from infections.
8. Drink plenty of water
Water is the most important nutrient. Dehydration must be avoided.
9. Treat vitamin D deficiency
Everyone living in the Northern Hemisphere or working indoors with limited sunlight exposure is at risk for experiencing vitamin D deficiency, which is linked to a diminished immune system function. Talk to your doctor about vitamin D level testing and supplementation.
10. Follow your doctor’s advice and keep routine vaccinations up to date
Tips for Grocery Shopping During a Pandemic
On March 23, 2020, during my TV interview by a reporter, Dorothy Tucker of CBS Chicago, I shared several tips for avoiding the coronavirus while grocery shopping. Here is the latest information based on current public health recommendations.
- Do not go to the grocery store if you (or anyone else in your home) are sick. Instead, ask someone else to deliver your groceries and supplies. Plan ahead and stock up for 2 weeks.
- Minimize trips to the store
- Use grocery delivery services if possible
- Shop at off-peak times
- Wear a multi-layer fabric face mask inside the store
- Wipe the shopping cart with a disinfectant wipe
- Keep 6 feet distance from others
- Pay with a credit/ debit card because cash may be contaminated with germs. Use a disposable glove or paper towel to touch the keypad
- When you come home, wash your hands, remove your clothes, take a shower, launder your clothes in the warmest appropriate setting and dry them thoroughly.
- A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the virus SARS-CoV-2 remains viable on cardboard for 24 hours, on stainless steel for up to 3 days and on plastic for up to 3 days.
- Also, it is viable in aerosols for 3 hours. Times are not clearly established for this virus in the freezer. However, freezing is known to preserve other viruses for 2 years or more.
- Non-porous containers like plastic, bottles, and cans can be washed, while cardboard can be set aside and not handled for a day.
- Transfer produce out of the store’s plastic bags and into your own containers
- Discard (recycle) the plastic produce bags
- Fresh produce can be washed as usual with water or a veggie wash product. Do not use cleaning products or soaps not designated for use on food.
- Raw fruits and vegetables are still okay to eat if washed and rinsed thoroughly. Scientists are still studying the virus so we do not have any definite findings. But if you are concerned, cooking would kill the virus.
- So far, eating food is not a known method of getting the virus. But it is probably a good idea to not eat with your hands.
- Any reusable shopping bags may be laundered or wiped clean
- After you finish putting away groceries, clean your countertops and other surfaces with disinfectant then wash your hands again.
This information is designed to improve your understanding of the new coronavirus and give you strategies to help you potentially reduce the spread and lower the chance of experiencing the disease. Stay informed of public health announcements in your area and follow advice from your personal doctor.
Keep your spirits lifted and may you and your loved ones be well.
The following information is based on the current information available. COVID-19 is new and research is constantly evolving. It is important for you to stay up to date by monitoring public health recommendations, which may change as more becomes known about this disease. For up to date information, visit the websites of your local public health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/ and the World Health Organization https://www.who.int/
In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths are Black. WBEZ91.5 Chicago website. Accessed April 5, 2020.
Steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick. CDC website. Accessed April 5, 2020.
Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation. CDC website. Accessed April 5, 2020.
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Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
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