COVID-19 medical basics
- Published: March 25, 2020
First emerging in China in December, coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, has now spread worldwide. As of March 17, the World Health Organization, or WHO, reported at least 179,111 confirmed cases in more than 150 countries. The number of cases outside of China has now surpassed those in China.
Here in Ohio, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported last Monday, March 9. Since then, the number has grown steadily, to at least 67, as of Ohio Department of Health figures from Tuesday afternoon, March 17.
The true number of cases is likely much higher, and will continue to increase in coming days and weeks, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. Acton has been among the state officials updating Ohioans on the virus outbreak and Ohio’s response as part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily press briefings.
“This is the real thing. This is not a drill,” she said earlier this week, sounding a strong note of urgency about the spread of the virus in Ohio.
Currently no cases in Greene County
As of this Tuesday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases in Greene County. Greene County Public Health Public Information Director Laurie Fox told the News on Monday that the county has seen some negative cases, that is, instances of people being tested but having those tests returned negative for COVID-19. But there have been no positive tests.
Fox noted that the local health agency is the reporting body for cases in the county to the Ohio Department of Health. And the local agency is working with the state health department to disseminate accurate and timely information to local residents about the disease and precautions people should take to avoid it and stop its spread.
“Nobody is immune,” Fox noted.
People 65 years and older and those with underlying heart and lung conditions or who have compromised immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, she said. But anyone can contract it, and anyone can be a carrier of the illness, spreading it to more vulnerable people.
“Social distancing is super important,” she said.
Social distancing is the practice of putting physical distance between people to avoid the spread of illness, she explained. As an extension of this practice, people should “self-isolate,” that is, stay at home and avoid all nonessential activities outside the home.
Fox recommended that people consult the Ohio Department of Health’s dedicated coronavirus website at coronavirus.ohio.gov or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/coronavirus. Ohio Department of Health is also staffing a coronavirus call center from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. That number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.
Fox urged people to be “prepared, not panicked” for an illness that is highly contagious and more deadly than the flu, but can be slowed down by limiting social contact.
And she had basic advice to local residents.
“Don’t panic, don’t hoard. Share and be kind,” she said.
Symptoms and spread
As a respiratory illness, the virus is spread in three main ways: by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact, according to Dr. Neha Vyas, a primary care physician at Cleveland Clinic, reached by the News on Monday for basic medical advice.
Whether or not people feel sick, they should limit physical contact with others in order to slow the virus’ spread during this time of outbreak.
“Eighty percent of people will have mild symptoms. But they could cause others to get sick,” Vyas said.
According to Vyas, the core symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, fatigue, muscle aches or body aches and a dry cough. She noted that these symptoms are similar to seasonal flu, but are distinct from cold symptoms.
Symptoms can appear between two and 14 days after coming into contact with the virus, she said.
By contrast, cold symptoms typically involve the upper respiratory tract, resulting in a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and a sore throat. Cold symptoms may be more intense in the morning.
Another set of symptoms people might be experiencing this time of year are allergy symptoms — specifically, sneezing and congestion — which overlap with cold symptoms, but tend to abate when people are indoors.
In some cases, COVID-19 symptoms can be more intense. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath are the more severe symptoms, Vyas said. When people experience these symptoms, they should contact their doctor.
“With these more serious symptoms, you should seek medical attention,” she said.
But people should not simply show up to their local medical practice, urgent care or ER facility, she stressed. Rather, they should call first so that medical staff can be adequately prepared.
While anyone with severe symptoms should seek help, those who are experiencing mild symptoms should stay at home and self-quarantine, according to Vyas.
“Don’t be within six feet of anyone; stay in your own room at home; don’t share towels or personal hygiene items,” she advised of people with mild symptoms of the disease.
Two weeks is the recommended self-quarantine period for those who have tested positive for the illness, or believe based on their symptoms that they might have it.
Testing kits are becoming more available in the state, according to Vyas, but are still limited. Testing requires a doctor’s order, and a doctor is the best person to guide patients regarding whether they should get tested or not.
Most with mild symptoms won’t be tested, she said. This is partly to avoid overburdening the state’s hospital system.
“Hospitals and lab facilities are working overtime,” Vyas said.
She added her own personal advice for Ohioans hunkered down at home.
“Manage your own anxiety and your own fears. Relax and meditate; take deep breaths,” she said.
While there are currently no vaccinations or specific treatments for COVID-19, Vyas said that “simple health habits” offer powerful medicine against the virus: washing hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds; sneezing into your elbow or a tissue; staying at home if you feel sick.
“There are basic things we all can do,” she said.
Local hospital information
Contacted by the News on Monday for information about COVID-19 preparedness, a Kettering Health Network spokesperson passed along information from John Weimer, vice president of Network Emergency, Trauma, and Operations Command Center.
“Kettering Health Network has been preparing for COVID-19 and we’ve implemented a network Incident Command structure so that we can continue to care for our community. We are following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 prevention, treatment, education and assessments. We are reviewing our readiness and supplies throughout our network, knowing that we will adjust and deploy resources when and where the need arises,” Weimer wrote in a statement.
Asked about the area availability of COVID-19 testing kits, Weimer wrote, “We have testing kits that meet CDC requirements. You must have a physician’s order to be tested. If someone feels sick, or experiences fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, they should call Ohio Department of Health’s Hotline at 1-833-427-5634.”
Kettering Health Network, in common with other area hospitals, implemented visitor restrictions as of March 16. No one ill with COVID-19 or seasonal flu symptoms is allowed to visit the hospital, and patients are allowed just one visitor over age 14, among other restrictions.
The News also reached out to Miami Township Fire-Rescue, or MTFR, Chief Colin Altman for his perspective on the preparedness of local first responders.
Altman said that as of this Monday, the local fire-rescue department has not received any service calls from local residents reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
When local residents call 911 for a medical emergency, they will need to answer an extra layer of screening questions related to COVID-19 symptoms, though assistance will be dispatched prior to the screening.
And local first responders will be “more suited up” for medical calls with masks and goggles, as well as gloves typically worn, he said.
He urged people to call their doctor’s office first, not 911, if they are experiencing mild symptoms they suspect might be COVID-19.
“We want people to triage themselves,” he said. “The hospital is the last place we want to take people — unless they need it.”
Altman added that all 24 of MTFR’s personnel were healthy so far. The fire station is closed to visitors as of Monday. And the department is working with other area fire-rescue departments to develop plans for sharing staff and equipment, if needed.
“We’re trying to get a handle on this. But we’re ready to get out and help people,” he said.