News about the coronavirus is everywhere you look but, unfortunately, there’s also a lot of misinformation out there.
So we wanted to set the record straight and squash any myths that are floating around by going straight to the source and talking with a medical professional.
We sat down with Dr. Scott Cohen, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist, to answer all of our questions about the new pandemic.
The majority of our readers are women in their 20s and 30s. If they have relatively healthy immune systems, how worried should they be about getting the virus?
We don’t yet know how often young, healthy people actually contract the virus but the sense is that the likelihood of infection is high but that the severity of the disease is relatively low compared to older individuals and those with impaired immune systems or chronic diseases. So statistically speaking, most of your readers should be in a low-risk group for complications from coronavirus.
That having been said, in almost all of the studies, there have been young otherwise healthy individuals who have become quite ill. Moreover, even if a person does not become ill themselves (for example, it is now thought that many individuals may be asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic but could still be contagious), they could potentially infect others including their parents, grandparents, and more vulnerable populations.
What should you do if you start to experience symptoms?
If you have minor cold symptoms and no fever, you can treat them with Tylenol, fluids, and cough suppressants. If you develop a fever and have a sore throat, cough, or shortness of breath, or if you develop shortness of breath at any time, you should contact your primary care physician.
People are currently hoarding things like toilet paper. Is that really necessary? What things should we be keeping on hand right now?
It makes sense to have extra soap or hand sanitizer on hand as well as enough food to last a week or so. If you are on prescription medications, make sure you are up to date on your refills. And if you can get an extra refill to have on hand, it would not be a bad idea. I don’t see why there is a need to hoard toilet paper.
Which is more effective, washing your hands with soap or using hand sanitizer?
Washing with soap and water for 20 seconds may be more effective, especially if your hands are dirty or if there are any respiratory secretions on them. So that would be the best if available. If hand washing is not available, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is still very effective provided you cover your hands well and rub them together for 20 seconds as well.
The media has whipped up a mass hysteria. What advice do you have for people who are experiencing a lot of anxiety right now?
Take a few deep breaths and keep in mind that most people who are infected with the virus will do well and that even most patients who become seriously ill will recover. Exercise (in your homes), meditate, watch comedies on Netflix, and otherwise do not be totally consumed by the stress of this moment. I would advise not watching the news 24/7. cdc.gov is a good source of accurate advice. Avoid the more sensationalistic news outlets.
A lot of people are afraid to take public transportation, particularly in large cities like New York. Should we be avoiding subways and buses?
That is a difficult question. So far the authorities including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have not said to stop taking the subways and buses. It is my opinion that you need to be very careful around concentrations of people.
So I would advise caution with taking subways and buses. If a subway car or bus is crowded, I would not take it and instead would wait for the next one. We know the virus can survive on surfaces like the hold bars on subways and buses. So I would recommend using a glove and definitely washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after using any form of public transportation.
What should we expect in the coming weeks?
Based on the experience in other countries, we can expect to see many more cases of covid-19 in the U.S. It remains unclear what the exact trajectory of the pandemic will be in the U.S. but the worst-case scenarios predict potential severe shortages of medical resources including ICU beds, mechanical ventilators, and hospital staffing.
If what happened in Italy happens in the United States and we end up with large numbers of coronavirus patients becoming critically ill at the same time, there will not be enough ICU beds and ventilators for all the people that will need them.
The hope is that with the implementation of so-called social distancing — keeping people apart so that the virus can’t spread nearly so rapidly — the disease progression will be slowed down so much that the peak number of cases can be reduced and spread over a much longer period of time so that our medical system can handle it.
For more information about the coronavirus, head to cdv.gov.