On Tuesday, the state of Michigan announced that two patients have been confirmed to have the coronavirus aka COVID-19. Thursday night, the state announced the number of confirmed cases had jumped to 12.
Don’t panic. Remember most importantly, this is a virus. There are no antibiotics or vaccinations to treat this. Some antivirals are being studied but are not ready for prime time.
The virus will run its course, similar to influenza, meaning we cannot stop it, but we can try to contain it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is continuing to learn more about COVID-19 and its traits.
Who is most at risk?
So far, it appears that it is those who are older, meaning greater than 65 years of age, those with health problems including diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, immunocompromised states such as receiving chemotherapeutic agents.
So what can you do?
The goal for us is to contain the virus. As individuals we need to help prevent the spread. Remember good hand washing — sing the alphabet song twice for timing— not touching your face, covering your mouth if you’re going to sneeze or cough. If handwashing is not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. The virus has been shown to be infectious from two hours up to nine days on inanimate objects.
Avoid public places if you can and especially if you feel that you are ill or have a fever due to a “cold.” The World Health Organization is recommending those with respiratory symptoms wear masks to help preventing the spread of the disease. Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet is advised.
Do you need to seek care?
Health departments have recommended self-quarantine. It may be difficult to avoid going to work or school for two weeks, but if you are concerned it is important that you contact your healthcare provider for further direction. Going to the emergency department is not going to help you if you are just wondering whether you have a COVID-19 virus. The emergency department will not test you to just check it out, given that there are specific guidelines that the CDC has mandated for testing. Most people who are being checked for the COVID-19 have risk factors such as traveling to an endemic area, being exposed to someone with COVID-19, or having severe illness. An emergency department can offer reassurance, but more importantly may be a vector for you to contract the illness.
But remember: If you feel as though you have an emergency, please go to the ER.
Dr. Geetika Gupta is an emergency medicine specialist on clinical faculty at the University of Michigan and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.