PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The spread of the coronavirus in about 160 countries has been rivaled by the spread of fear. The vast majority of the illnesses around the world are mild, with fever and cough. A much smaller percentage of cases are severe and involve pneumonia, particularly in elderly people and people with underlying medical conditions.
And while there is no novel coronavirus vaccine currently, there are facts that you should know.
Here’s a look at what we know, myths that make the rounds and how you can protect yourself.
Let’s start globally and then focus in on Oregon and Washington.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.
This new coronavirus was first detected in China and has now been detected in about 160 locations internationally, including in the United States. Its name is “coronavirus disease 2019” and abbreviated to COVID-19.
Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 was first reported among close contacts of returned travelers from Wuhan.
During the week of February 23, CDC reported community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in California (in two places), Oregon and Washington. Community spread in Washington resulted in the first death in the United States from COVID-19, as well as the first reported case of COVID-19 in a health care worker, and the first potential outbreak in a long-term care facility.
FACTS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS
- Diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity
- For most people, the immediate risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low.
- Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.
- Someone who has completed quarantine or has been released from isolation does not pose a risk of infection to other people.
- You can help stop COVID-19 by knowing the signs and symptoms: Fever – Cough – Shortness of breath. Seek medical advice if you develop symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or recently traveled to an area with an ongoing spread of coronavirus
- There are simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy: Wash your hands, don’t touch your eyes, stay home when you’re sick, cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue
- Information from the CDC
MYTHS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS
- Hand dryers are effective in killing the 2019-nCoV FALSE
- UV lamps should be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin FALSE
- Thermal scanners can detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever FALSE
- Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will kill viruses that have already entered your body. FALSE — and it might be bad for you, too.
- Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, provide protection against the new coronavirus. FALSE
- Regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus. FALSE — there is no evidence for this
- Eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus. FALSE — there is no evidence for this
- Sesame oil kills the new coronavirus. FALSE
At this time, 42 of the 50 US states are under “stay home” orders from their governor.
CDC recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide. Cruise lines have suspended their operations at this time.
Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.
SHOULD I WEAR A MASK?
- If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection.
- Wear a mask if you’re going to a place where you can’t guarantee social distancing will be maintained, such as a grocery store.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OREGON
The Oregon Health Authority is now updating their coronavirus page on their website with information about the situation.
On Sunday, March 8, 2020, Gov. Kate Brown declared a State of Emergency for 60 days to help authorities deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
“This emergency declaration gives the Oregon Health Authority and the Office of Emergency Management all the resources at the state’s disposal to stem the spread of this disease. We will do everything it takes, within our power and in coordination with federal and local officials, to keep Oregonians safe.”
Under the declaration, OHA will be able to activate reserves of emergency volunteer health care professionals. The declaration additionally grants broad authority to the State Public Health Director, OHA, and the Office of Emergency Management, which will allow the agencies to take immediate action and devote all available state resources towards containing the virus in Oregon.
Officials previously said more cases of coronavirus are likely in Oregon.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN WASHINGTON
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said his state, which was the first epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak in the US, recently extended his “stay home” order through May 4, 2020.
The Washington State Department of Health has up-to-date information on measures implemented, the number of cases in the state and where those cases are.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO
The best thing to do is to stay informed. Wash your hands. Don’t shake hands — do the elbow bump instead. Pay attention. Use common sense.
If you take public transit, the same advice applies. TriMet said they regularly clean each vehicle, but the surfaces people touch — bars or doors — “should never be considered sanitized.” TriMet has scaled back their service beginning April 5, 2020.
HOW TO WASH YOUR HANDS
Dr. Paul Cieslak, the Medical Director for Communicable Diseases at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division, told KOIN 6 News he’d choose soap over hand sanitizer.
“Washing your hands with soap and water will basically wash off any bacterium or virus that might make you sick,” Cieslak said. “Hand sanitizer is great as a secondary method if you don’t have soap and water around.”
Hand sanitizer won’t kill some viruses, but soap-and-water will “just wash everything down the drain” — including the coronavirus.
“You have to be sure to scrub your hands scrupulously, making sure you get between your fingers and hopefully spend a lot of time on your fingernails,” he said. “That’s where bacteria and viruses like to hang out. And do it for 20 seconds under running water.”
He said there’s only a “marginal” difference between regular soap and anti-bacterial soap, which won’t have any effect on the viruses. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands very well to “wash everything down the drain.”
If you use hand sanitizer, the way to do it is about the same — between your fingers and all over your fingernails.
Cieslak said a lot of viruses that cause respiratory problems — the common cold, the flu — can be transmitted by hand-to-hand contact.
“You put your hand to your mouth, your nose, your eye and then shake hands with somebody and you can transmit it. And they can innoculate themselves in the eye, for example,” he said. “We’ve taken to doing the elbow bump to minimize the hand-to-hand contact. And after you do have hand-to-hand contact with someone, that’s a good time to wash your hands.”
TOUCHING COMMON SURFACES
It’s important to clean frequently touched surfaces, like grocery carts or other surfaces in your home like door knobs or the refrigerator handle.
“Taking care to clean those down a couple times a day may offer some protection,” he said.
Older people and/or those with underlying health conditions should be extra mindful, Cieslak said.
“Do the common sense things, do what you can do — which is washing your hands, staying home while you’re sick and that’s going to be the best protection against this and a variety of other viruses.”