Wash your hands. Then email us questions.
By Roland Wilkerson
February 27, 2020
As the U.S. gears up for more expected cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19*, we talked with Dr. David H. Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer to get answers to everyday questions. Have a question? Email healthyheadlines@NovantHealth.org and we’ll try to post answers here.
1. There have been conflicting reports that the virus will go away on its own once spring temperatures arrive. Is that true?
In general, coronaviruses tend to be seasonal viruses that are more commonly found in the population during winter months. For this particular coronavirus, we do not know what will happen but we suspect that it will be circulating around the United States going forward. Whether it’s a seasonal event that is less common in the spring and summer or is a year-round issue remains to be seen. We are probably 12-24 months from a vaccine.
2. We see people around the world now wearing masks. If you’re healthy, is there any reason to wear one? Is there ever a time when we should consider using a mask?
If you’re healthy, there’s no reason to wear a mask. If you develop respiratory symptoms, you should wear a mask when visiting healthcare locations. For instance, when individuals come to our clinics or hospitals, if they have respiratory symptoms, we provide a mask when they enter the facility. We offer those masks at the front door.
However, we don’t want to overuse masks. There’s a limited supply. And if we use them in settings where they’re really not necessary, we run the risk of running out of those supplies.
3. Should we switch to fist bumps over handshakes to lessen the chance of spreading germs and the virus?
It is unclear whether that would have any impact on the prevention of infection. The emphasis should be on frequent hand hygiene, which is our best bet for preventing the spread of infectious diseases or viruses. Washing your hands with soap and water is best. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
4. Most of us don’t seek care when we get a cold because we know they run their course and there’s not much that can be done. But with the coronavirus symptoms being so similar to a cold, should we seek medical attention sooner now?
At this point, I don’t think so. The good thing is the vast majority of individuals who acquire the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 actually do quite well. Reports show 98% of people that acquire this have done fine. The group of people who need to consider calling their doctor are those who are older and have other chronic medical problems. Otherwise, healthy people with a mild cold or upper respiratory infection symptoms should manage those conditions by staying home and washing their hands frequently.
As this virus becomes more widespread in the United States, it would actually be a disservice for people to overreact to those kinds of symptoms and immediately flock to emergency departments or urgent care centers. I think our national strategy around dealing with a widespread virus will be for patients to stay home with self-quarantine until enough time goes by that they can move back out into the public. I think one of the important strategies for controlling this ultimately is going to be what the CDC is calling “aggressive home containment.” So I don’t think we want to encourage people to seek medical care for mild respiratory symptoms.
Novant Health has multiple options that let you connect with a doctor and get a diagnosis without leaving your home.
5. Assuming the coronavirus makes its way into the U.S. in big numbers in some communities, will we see an impact on everyday life?
To limit the spread of the virus, we may see people meeting more online to avoid large groups of people gathering. Don’t be surprised if you see schools and places of worship changing their schedules to help alleviate the risk of spread. I think that’s something we could certainly see in the future.