'We're all in this together' An infectious disease specialist shares lessons from COVID-19
I know there are many questions and concerns about COVID-19 in our community.
First and foremost, I want to provide some reassurance that illness due to COVID-19 disease is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, it can cause serious illness for those over the age of 60 and those who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. That’s why it is critically-important that we all take precautions to protect everyone in our community.
Here’s what we've learned so far:
1. Social distancing works.
Social distancing refers to a protection measure meant to reduce and slow transmission of disease. On March 15, the CDC made a recommendation to cancel gatherings of more than 50 people throughout the United States for the next eight weeks. Schools and in-person dining in restaurants and bars in Washington have also been temporarily closed or suspended.
I strongly endorse these actions, which will undoubtedly help slow the spread of COVID-19.
I recommend minimizing unnecessary public exposures as COVID-19 in Puget Sound is still on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends taking extra measures to put distance between yourself and other people (3-6 feet) to further reduce your risk of being exposed to this new virus.
Based on what we have seen from other similar countries like Italy and South Korea, we might only be at the beginning of our epidemic in the United States. Social distancing measures will help to slow the spread.
2. People need to stay home when they are sick.
Staying home when you are sick or keeping your kids home when they are sick is not optional during an epidemic like COVID-19. Fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other upper respiratory infection symptoms are an indication to stay home. Consider a fever anything over 100.4, but be overly cautious if you feel unwell.
This is also the start of allergy season, so sometimes it is challenging to tell the difference. I get asked all the time when to seek health care. Given that COVID-19 is similar to the flu, I would do what you normally do to treat flu symptoms. If you are able, rest and hydrate and manage your symptoms at home. If you feel like you need to be evaluated for more severe symptoms like shortness of breath, call your provider first. Please note that the flu is still present in the Pacific Northwest and it is not too late to vaccinate.
MultiCare has a coronavirus assessment tool to help determine if you are at risk for COVID-19.
Again, I want to provide reassurance that most people will recover from COVID-19 at home with plenty of rest and fluids.
3. Hand and respiratory hygiene protects everyone.
Even if you are not at higher risk for complications associated with COVID-19, you can keep yourself and others safe by practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene, especially now while you are likely to get and spread germs:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. View MultiCare’s helpful handwashing guide.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth in public.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with your elbow to greatly reduce the number of germs that are able to spread to people and objects around you.
4. We’re all in this together.
The Pacific Northwest has one of the most sophisticated health care coordination systems in the country. For example, our hospitals in Pierce county took patients from King County when there was a surge in cases. It is very heartening to hear leaders from all the major health care systems working to coordinate our regional response.
Everyone has a role to play. At MultiCare, our mission is partnering for healing and a healthy future. We truly need everyone to partner with us right now to slow the spread by following basic precautions and looking out for one another.
Let's support each other by doing the basics to protect ourselves and our family, friends and neighbors.
About The Author
Michael Myint, MD, is Physician Executive of Population Health, Quality & Risk Adjustment at MultiCare. He is also an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist.
Dr. Myint has worked previously at Swedish Health Services, Virginia Mason, and the University of Washington. He has led organizational efforts around clinical quality, patient safety, risk management, and Population Health. Dr. Myint has a passion for working toward ever improving clinical value for patients and the communities he serves.More stories by this author