Stay informed. Stay calm.

“So what’s with the coronavirus?”

I’ve been asked this question a number of times in the past week, so I suspect it is  on the mind of a number of you. Information is coming out (and changing) rapid-fire, and it is sometimes confusing and occasionally contradictory.

So, first things first – a caveat – this op-ed is being written on March 8. Some of what is written may have changed by the time you read this. How can you best keep up? If you have access to the Internet, there are several reliable and frequently updated sites.

The best site is CDC.gov. Click on “Coronavirus Disease 2019” which is right at the top of the page. The site will give you the latest information on the virus.

The best local information can be found at the Yates County Public Health website. Go to the yatescounty.org and type “COVID” into the search box, or just Google “Yates County Public Health”. We are blessed to have a very good public health department in Yates County. You can also access Yates County Public Health on social media.

Other sites include the New York State Department of Health (health. NY. gov), click on “novel coronavirus (COVID – 19).” The site can keep you up-to-date with a number of cases in New York state. Currently are 105 cases in New York State. There are none in Yates County.

For those without Internet access, you can go online for free at the Penn Yan library, and of course if you have a device capable of Wi-Fi, there are numerous eating establishments in Penn Yan that offer complimentary Wi-Fi.

One place not to get your information is from social media or (any) politician. The political environment is so toxic that even in the case of something as serious as COVID 19, information is being politicized. Don’t risk your health on some politician trying to “score points.”

Prevention

So what are the recommendations for preventing COVID 19 infection? COVID is a respiratory (lung and breathing) infection. It is spread by droplets in the air and on surfaces such as countertops. If you get the virus on your hands, and touch your nose or eyes, you can get infected. 

So, washing your hands frequently, and for about 20 seconds (happy birthday to you sung twice – or if you prefer, the opening to Star Trek “Space, the final frontier... To boldly go where no one has gone before” done once), and keeping your hands away from your eyes and nose will help a great deal. Also helpful is the “six-foot rule,” which just means to keep a distance of 6 feet between you and someone with symptoms. Surgical masks are not particularly useful. They can prevent spread from you to another person, but not the other way around. It may remind you not to touch your nose or mouth (but not your eyes), and you probably could get the same effect with a scarf.

What if you are infected?

What can you do if you are infected (or think you are infected)? 

• First, don’t panic!

• Second, and this is very important: Don’t Go to Work or School! 

• Third, stay away from household members (the six-foot rule). 

• Fourth, wash your hands frequently, and continue to keep hands away from eyes nose and mouth (which will get the infection onto your hands and will increase the spread of disease).  A mask will help to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets in this case. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and throw it in the trash immediately after use. 

• Finally, if you do plan to go to your doctor, please phone ahead and tell them you have had exposure to COVID 19, and may be infected. That way they can be sure you don’t sit around the waiting room infecting others.

What can be done about COVID 19? 

At the moment we are still learning about it.

We can test for it (currently being done through the state lab, but may become more readily available in the near future). We do not have the vaccine to prevent it (and likely will not have one anytime soon, as it will need to be created, tested, and have clinical trials). 

We do not currently have any treatment, although there is an antiviral that has shown promise, and is undergoing clinical trials currently.

Finally, should you go to your doctor at all? That’s a fair question, since we don’t have therapy for this illness. Covid 19 can present from mild symptoms (like a cold) up to high fever, severe pneumonia, breathing failure, and shock. Of course, there are also other viruses, causing sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and influenza circulating as well. Some of these are treatable. 

If you have a mild illness and low-grade fever you probably will do best by staying home. If you are severely ill, you should see your doctor. If you are struggling to breathe, are confused, or have a fever greater than 104°, you should go to the Emergency Department. Remember to call in advance to let them know you’re coming.

Remember, we’re still learning about this virus, so keep checking the websites and talk with your doctor.