Coronavirus is here and it seems like the world is living out the movie “Contagion.” As a doctor and a mom, I’m being asked a lot of questions. Here are my top 5:
Why are so many events being cancelled? Should I stay home from work?
The short answer is that viruses spread through contact with people. If there is a large event with many people attending, shaking hands and being in close quarters, infections are likely to spread quickly. This is what leads to “exponential” cases. And here’s the truth: Our hospitals do not have enough beds to handle millions of cases, especially those that are critically ill. And this is a true danger for all of us. To help prevent this from happening, we need to cancel events, do social distancing and yes, even work remotely.
Should I travel or should I cancel my plans?
Travel can expose you to viruses. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for over 24 hours, according to some studies and some airplanes are not wiped down after every flight. If you do choose to travel, make sure you have disinfecting wipes to clean where you are sitting – get the arm rests, the touch screen if there is one and the food tray -- and wash your hands well after the flight. Lastly, as for now, avoid international travel as there are many restrictions. If you really need to get away, maybe a road trip to a close location is a better option.
What about grandma? Can we see her?
People over the age of 60 are more at risk for serious problems like breathing issues, pneumonia and even death. If you are exposed to coronavirus or any viruses, you may want to stay away away from the elderly for about at least two weeks, even if you don’t feel sick. Even if you aren’t exposed to cough or viruses, you could be inadvertently a carrier, so wash your hands and keep your distance from anyone older or anyone whose immune system could be down. FaceTiming or Skyping is a great option!
What can we do at home to try and stay safe?
The best thing to do at home is practice good hygiene. This means washing your hands for 20 seconds as soon as you get home, and before any meals. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth and also clean your devices as much as possible as the virus can live on surfaces. Encourage your kids to not share food or drinks and wipe down backpacks and other paraphernalia. Children, especially, seem to be protected and are not getting seriously sick, but prevention is key.
Should I stock up on supplies?
Here is where I would be very thoughtful. I think it’s a good idea to have supplies for 2-3 weeks at home in case you need to self quarantine or in case you or your family gets sick. Supplies like bread that you can put in the freezer, milk, cheese, eggs, canned products and protein bars are great. Also, water bottles can help although a good filtered pitcher may do the same. Remember, though, not to hoard supplies at the stores. This is not necessary and you do want everyone to be able to access food and supplies.
A story that my grandma told me a long time ago comes to mind in this epidemic. She was getting married in the era of the bubonic plague that killed millions a while back. During the actual ceremony, a friend came up to her father and informed him that a mouse had died that day from what the animal doctor believed was the plague.
My great-grandfather watched the ceremony finish, went up to the front of the audience and said "Leave immediately. The reception is cancelled. I want every person to leave now and go to their homes. The plague is at our door.” Everyone left and my grandma’s family drove to the country to stay in a farmhouse for several weeks.
When the plague passed there were many, many unfortunate people who were affected but my grandma, her family and most of the guests survived. All because of social distancing and quick thinking.
These seem to be tough times, but remember, the world has seen this type of epidemic before and probably will again. What will matter in the end, is the thoughtful steps that we take as a society to prevent ourselves and others from getting sick. And those simple measures can really make an impact. We don’t need to panic but just be aware so that our hospitals do not get overwhelmed. We need to work together, for each other, and we will get through this.