Stay Calm, Wash Your Hands, and Practice Distance

By Melissa Hakim, M.D.
Health Advocate

I am definitely not a fan of horror movies. I don't find it entertaining to be sitting in the dark waiting for the shoe to drop and being in a constant state of panic. The relief that comes at the end of the movie is not enough to get rid of the dread I experienced watching the movie. Those feelings of anxiety and panic are pervasive throughout our world today. I feel as if we are living in a real life zombie movie, afraid of the unknown, and wary of all those we might come in contact with.

As with horror movies, we all feel better when the lights come on. So, let's shed some light on COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by a coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses named for the crown-like spikes found on the surface of its fatty outer layer. They usually cause mild illnesses like the common cold. Soap is able to dissolve the fatty layer of the virus and makes it inactive. By washing your hands with soap and water (any temperature), you deactivate the virus and cause it to fall into the sink and go down the drain. When we use hand sanitizer or wipes, the alcohol deactivates the virus but does not remove it from your hands. Both actions prevent you from getting sick.

COVID-19 is not like the seasonal flu. It has a higher mortality rate (although we don't know the true mortality rate since we are not doing widespread testing). It has a longer incubation period than the flu. According to a recent Lancet article, it appears that people with COVID-19 are contagious for a longer period of time than with the flu. There is no cure for COVID-19 and, since it is a novel virus, there is no immunity. 

There are a wide variety of symptoms with COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. These fractions of severe and critical infection would be higher than what is observed for influenza infection."

The virus spreads through respiratory droplets. So sneezing, coughing and even breathing can cause respiratory droplets to float through the air and land on people, clothing, furniture, door handles, etc. When someone touches the droplets and then touches their face, they can introduce the virus into their bodies. That is why it is so important to wash your hands. By washing your hands, you deactivate and get rid of the virus before introducing it to your body.

Social distancing is the key aspect of slowing down the spread of the virus. It is a public health approach that has people avoiding other people and places where they might come in contact with the virus. The goal of social distancing is not just to keep the individual healthy but the general population as well. Those age 65 and older and those with underlying illness are at greater risk of having severe disease. People who are younger and healthy can still carry the virus. Even though they are asymptomatic, they can make others sick. If we keep people apart, we slow down the rate of transmission and we won't overwhelm our health system. That is how social distancing slows the spread of the virus.

So, what can you do to stay healthy?

1. Wash your hands. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.

2. Look to the CDC and PA Department of Health for guidance on sheltering in place. If you need to leave your house, practice social distancing. The less contact you have with other people, the less likely you are to become sick or get others infected.

3. Wear a mask when going out in public especially in indoor public spaces.

4. If you feel sick, stay home and call your doctor.

Be well.