It’s easy to feel helpless during a global pandemic, but you’re far from it. We all have a part to play in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus). And in this case, a strong defense is the best offense.
Here’s the game plan
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- HANDS: Wash them more often than you check Instagram, meaning often. Be sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds (singing a song in your head helps).
- ELBOWS: Cough or sneeze into these instead of your hands to limit the spread of germs.
- FACE: Don’t touch it, and wear a cloth face covering (two or more layers of washable fabric over your mouth and nose) when in public areas.
- FEET: We’re talking distance, as in staying at least 6 feet away from other people, aside from those you’re self-isolating with. Avoid crowds, especially indoors.
- FEEL: Listen to your body. If you’re feeling under the weather, stay home.
- IMMUNE SYSTEM: Find out how your local area plans to distribute vaccines so you can make an appointment when the time comes.
In addition to the steps above, you can take other simple measures to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. Here are some recommendations from the CDC.
Clean and disinfect the surfaces in your home, especially highly trafficked ones like doorknobs, faucets, keyboards, and phones. Regular detergent or soap and water will work for an initial clean.
Then disinfect the surface with bleach (4 teaspoons per cup of water) or a 70 percent or greater alcohol solution. Here are more disinfectants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using.
To protect others, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Ideally, you should cough into your elbow (since you don’t touch surfaces or people too often with that part of your body). Even if you use a tissue, it’s best to wash your hands afterward, just in case any viruses managed to slip through.
The CDC recommends that everyone over 2 years old wear a cloth face covering when in public, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. It should be snug and well-fitting, cover from above your nose to below your chin, and have a two or more layers of washable fabric.
Wash and dry it after every use or use a disposable kind. The CDC also recently recommended wearing multilayered masks or double masking.
Home is where your health is
We should all be self-isolating right now, but this applies even more if you aren’t feeling well. Staying at home is the best thing you can do to protect others, but of course you should seek medical attention if you need to. Many healthcare professionals offer telehealth services.
Public transit mask requirements
As of February 2, 2021, masks are required on U.S. public transit. This includes planes, buses, trains, and other forms of transportation within, into, or out of the United States and in U.S. airports and train stations.
When it comes to fighting the novel coronavirus, knowledge is power. There’s a lot of misinformation about how the virus is transmitted, so here’s what we DO know for sure.
The term “coronavirus” refers to a category of viruses that also includes SARS, MERS, and the common cold. The current coronavirus is a being called “new” or “novel” because we haven’t experienced it in humans before. It’s less deadly than SARS or MERS but appears to be much more contagious.
One of the most important things to know about COVID-19 is that you can have only mild symptoms or none at all, so it’s possible to pass on the virus without realizing you have it.
Officials believe the virus originated in animals and was transmitted to humans. The novel coronavirus then began circulating from human to human, which is precisely what happened with SARS and MERS.
There are numerous new strains of the virus globally that could potentially be more contagious than the original virus strain. This means we need to be even more diligent about our hygiene and distancing practices.
We also don’t yet know whether a recently vaccinated person can still pass on the virus to others, so it’s important to keep masking up and maintaining physical distance even after you’re vaccinated.
Here’s how the novel coronavirus is transmitted from person to person
- talking, coughing, and sneezing — specifically, ingesting or inhaling respiratory fluid through your eyes, nose, or mouth from a person who has the virus
- touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face (specifically your eyes, nose, or mouth)
- direct physical contact with someone who has the virus
- fecal contamination, which is much less likely
First of all, don’t panic — that doesn’t help anyone. Follow the prevention and sanitation tips above and continue to self-isolate.
The best way to avoid contracting the virus is to avoid situations that could put you in contact with it. Basically, stay in the comfort of your regularly cleaned and sanitized home.
Staying at home doesn’t just protect you, it protects others — especially those at a higher risk, like older adults and people with preexisting medical conditions. You could be carrying the virus without knowing and transmit it to others. If you’re feeling sick, contact a healthcare professional and stay away from others.
If you have to leave your home to seek medical attention, stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Limit what and who you touch. Try not to sneeze or cough in public, and if you do, do so into your elbow. Always wear your mask while in public.
Masks to prevent COVID-19
Let’s be clear: Specialized masks are in high demand, so please don’t wear a surgical face mask or N95 respirator face mask meant for a medical professional.
Instead, wear a multilayered cloth face covering in public places, even if you don’t feel sick. Make sure it fits snugly against your face, secured with ties or ear loops. You should be able to breathe normally without restriction. You can make a face covering with materials you probably already have.
On February 10, 2021, the CDC updated its guidelines to include the following:
- Choose a mask with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out the top (also good for preventing fog on glasses!).
- Wear a mask fitter or brace on top of your mask to give it a better fit. You can find these online.
- Use multiple-layered masks or wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
- Knot and tuck the ear loops of a three-ply mask for a more secure fit.
The CDC also recommends the following:
- Don’t wear two disposable masks at one time (these aren’t great at fitting snugly on your face).
- Don’t combine another mask with a KN95 mask. The KN95 is sufficient on its own.
Don’t expect a doctor to prescribe antibiotics, since those fight only bacterial infections. Antibiotics won’t cure viruses (like the common cold, the flu, and the novel coronavirus).
Current available treatments
People who have a diagnosis of COVID-19 are receiving supportive treatments as well as certain drugs (more on those shortly).
Doctors treat people with severe symptoms by using medication to reduce a fever, administering fluids to prevent dehydration, and providing supplemental oxygen when necessary.
Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral medication that was created to treat the Ebola virus and is now being used to fight the novel coronavirus in isolated cells.
On October 22, 2020, the FDA approved remdesivir for treatment in hospitalized patients. In November 2020, the FDA also issued an emergency use authorization for baricitinib, a Janus-kinase inhibitor, alongside remdesivir in hospitalized people who require respiratory support.
These are lab-created proteins that act like antibodies to help the immune system. Studies are underway to test tocilizumab, usually used to treat autoimmune illnesses, as a treatment for severe cases of COVID-19.
A clinical trial suggested that the corticosteroid dexamethasone may reduce deaths in hospitalized patients with COVID-19. It currently seems to be beneficial only for those who need mechanical ventilation and supplemental oxygen.
Lopinavir and ritonavir
Sold under the name Kaletra, ritonavir and lopinavir were created to treat HIV. But recently, a 54-year-old South Korean man with COVID-19 was successfully treated with these two drugs.
The World Health Organization says Kaletra could be especially beneficial when used in combination with other drugs.
This 70-year-old drug has been used to treat malaria and other autoimmune diseases. It’s considered safe and has been proven effective at combating SARS.
As of June 15, 2020, the FDA revoked its authorization to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. This was determined by a large clinical study that showed no benefit to people with COVID-19. Many clinical trials using the drug have now been put on hold.
Favilavir is an antiviral medication that was designed to treat nose and throat inflammation. It has been approved by China to treat COVID-19.
While the results of the study have yet to be released, favilavir proved effective at treating COVID-19 symptoms in the 70 people included in a trial.
More studies on this antiviral medication are in progress.
China is set to start clinical trials on APN01, a drug developed in the early 2000s, as a treatment for COVID-19. The scientists who created APN01 also discovered a protein (ACE2) that was involved in infecting human cells in the SARS outbreak and the novel coronavirus.
Depending on the results of the first trial, larger clinical trials will soon be underway.
Blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 has emergency use authorization from the FDA for use in people hospitalized with COVID-19.
A small study in January 2021 showed that people who received convalescent plasma within 3 days of developing COVID-19 symptoms were 48 percent less likely to develop a more severe form of the illness than those who received a placebo.
For at-home care, a medical professional may recommend the following:
- taking over-the-counter medications to reduce fever
- staying well hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- getting a good amount of rest
- eating nutritious foods, such as vitamin D-rich foods, to help your body stay generally healthy
The supply of these vaccines is currently very limited, and local distribution plans are mostly focused on CDC recommendations to decide who should receive the vaccines first.
As of February 2021, states are primarily focusing vaccine distribution on frontline healthcare workers and other essential workers, people in assisted living facilities, and people over 65.
After that, we’ll likely see more distribution to people with comorbid conditions (other conditions which may make more severe cases of COVID-19 more likely) and eventually the general public. The timeline for full distribution isn’t yet clear.
Some types of COVID-19 vaccine require two doses over a period of time, while others may potentially require just one. You’ll be informed of the type you’re receiving, so you’ll know if you need a follow-up dose.
It’s unclear whether the existing COVID-19 vaccines will protect us against any new or mutated strains of the virus, but research is ongoing.
Your state or county health department should allow you to find out more about the vaccination process in your local area.
Protecting yourself and others after the vaccine
There’s very little data on whether we can still pass the virus to others after we’re vaccinated. Continue to follow all the prevention guidelines, including wearing a mask, until we know otherwise.
If you think you have COVID-19, follow these steps:
- Assess your risk. Regular colds and infections are still going around, so try to remain objective about your symptoms. If people in your community have been diagnosed as having COVID-19 or if you’ve traveled recently, your chances of having contracted the virus are higher.
- Don’t rush to the doctor. Contact a healthcare facility first. For the average healthy person, COVID-19 isn’t likely to be life threatening. If your symptoms are mild, it’s best to talk to a pro before venturing to a clinic and putting others at risk. A medical professional will evaluate your condition and work with the necessary authorities to decide if you need testing.
- Hunker down at home. Self-isolation is vital in reducing the transmission of the virus. Getting plenty of rest is also the best way to recover. If you’re at home with others, keep your distance and be mindful of touching common surfaces or sharing items.
- Keep your doctor informed. If you’re experiencing any lingering or long-haul symptoms, talk with a healthcare professional about options for symptom relief.
According to the WHO, about 80 percent of people who contract the virus get better without hospital treatment.
If you’re healthy and relatively young and you don’t have any underlying health issues, a medical professional will most likely recommend you isolate and take care of yourself at home.
But if you’re older or immunosuppressed or you have preexisting conditions, call a medical facility as soon as you notice symptoms. If your symptoms start to worsen, seek medical attention immediately and take all the necessary precautions to protect others, like wearing a mask.
Let your local healthcare facility know when you’re coming in, so they can admit you appropriately. You can always call 911 in the case of a serious emergency.
Together, we can and will flatten the curve. So remember the COVID-19 game plan:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and disinfect surfaces in your home often. If no soap and water are available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Stay 6 feet away from other people, aside from those you’re self-isolating with.
- Try not to touch your face, especially if you’re out of the house or haven’t recently washed your hands.
- Wear a multilayered cloth face covering in all public spaces (or wear two masks at once to achieve the necessary multiple layers).
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow, not your hands.
- Stay home and steer clear of crowds.
- Check the coronavirus app for the latest information