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VOL. 44 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 20, 2020

Coping with COVID-19: From mild to critical

By Kathy Carlson

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How you deal with COVID-19 depends primarily on how sick you are. Listen to your body talk, as the song goes.

If you’re only mildly ill, you can probably treat yourself at home with over-the-counter medications while drinking fluids and getting plenty of rest.

Hospitals, health care facilities and health care providers need to be treating the most serious cases. There’s no vaccine for COVID-19, nor is there a known cure.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients will receive supportive treatment, CNN recently reported, quoting the Harvard Medical School. That includes “giving fluids, medicine to reduce fever and, in severe cases, supplemental oxygen.”

Except for the oxygen, these steps can take place at home.

The Centers for Disease Control has said most cases of the novel coronavirus will be mild, but severe cases are possible. A report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases.

People at risk are those 60 and older and those of all ages with serious underlying conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.

COVID-19 began in China, and the first transmissions of the disease apparently were from animals to humans. Then, it began to spread from person to person.

Those who had traveled to countries where COVID-19 was present were at greater risk of catching it, then the circle of risk included people who came in close contact with those travelers.

The CDC defines close contact as within about 6 feet of an infected person, for a “prolonged period of time,” which can occur while caring for, living with, visiting or sharing a health care waiting area or emergency room with someone who has the disease.

Now, the virus is spreading in communities, among people who have had no connection to locations hard-hit by coronavirus.

Health care workers are at greater risk than average individuals to contract COVID-19. Community spread increases the risk of transmission and the disease reaching a critical point at which hospitals, health care supplies and health care workers are stretched beyond capacity, endangering everyone. That’s why so many government groups across the country are restricting the number of people at meetings and why so many schools have closed nationwide.

That said, symptoms of COVID-19 are:

• Fever greater than 100.4 degrees F.

• Cough

• Shortness of breath

Based on what was seen during a previous outbreak of another coronavirus, MERS, the symptoms can appear from 2-14 days after exposure.

The CDC lists emergency warning signs that include:

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

• New confusion or inability to arouse

• Bluish lips or face

This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but CDC says these signs warrant getting medical attention immediately. That will most likely mean a call to your primary health care provider. The Tennessee and Metro departments of health, as well as local hospitals, are urging potential patients to call a primary provider first rather than appear at an emergency room.

“For anyone concerned about symptoms like cough, fever, or other minor respiratory problems, call your health care provider,” the Metro Health Department said in a March 14 update. “Do not go to the emergency room unless you are injured or may require urgent care. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs without putting the health of the patients, health care workers and the general public at further risk.”

“If you would not normally seek medical care for your present symptoms, you do not need evaluation and testing,” read a Williamson Medical Center statement.

The CDC and Prevention website advises that if you have COVID-19 or think you do, to take these steps:

Stay home except to obtain medical care. People with mild symptoms are able to isolate at home during their illness.

Separate yourself at home from other people and animals, using a separate room and separate bathroom if possible. So far, it’s unknown whether pets can get coronavirus from humans, but the CDC recommends that those who have it limit their contact with animals until more is known. If possible, have someone else in your home take care of your animals while you are ill.

Call ahead before visiting your doctor and tell him or her you have or may have COVID-19 so health workers and other patients can be protected. Your health care provider will be the one who requests a COVID-19 test; you cannot get one on demand. If it turns out you need a test, your provider will probably swab your nose, throat or mouth and send samples to a testing center. Do not go a lab that you’ve used in the past for a blood test for a COVID test – it’s not how it works.

Wear a facemask if you are sick and around other people or pets and before entering a health care provider’s office. Also, wear a facemask if you’re caring for a sick person who cannot wear a facemask.

Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, and dispose of used tissues in a lined trash can. Immediately afterward, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). If you can’t get to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Even if you’re not sneezing or coughing, clean your hands often, meaning after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food. Same rules as above apply on washing. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Don’t share personal household items with others or pets. Think dishes, drinking glasses, towels, bedding.

Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces daily. That means counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, bedside tables. Also, it goes without saying – disinfect areas with bodily fluids. Use household cleaners according to package directions.

Monitor your symptoms. Seek prompt medical attention if your condition gets worse. Call your doctor beforehand, wear a facemask when you go to the doctor, and ask your provider to call the state or local health department. Call 911 if you have a medical emergency and tell the dispatcher if you have COVID-19 or are being evaluated for it.

Finally, stay at home until your health care provider says you can leave.

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