What You Should Know About The Coronavirus
Updated March 6, 2020. This post will continue to be updated as more information is available.
The outbreak of the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 continues to be a global health challenge. The virus is now present on every continent except Antarctica.
You might have heard that there’s expanded access to testing. As of March 6, 2020, testing capacity by the CDC is still limited. See below “should I be tested” guidance for more information.
Below, we answer our most frequently asked questions about COVID-19:
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an illness caused by a new variant of a very common family of viruses called coronaviruses, which cause respiratory tract infections ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Though most commonly found in animals like cattle, cats, and bats, coronaviruses can in some cases infect and spread between humans.
How is it transmitted?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is passed through coughing, sneezing, close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands, or touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth without washing hands. In short, it is passed along like a cold or flu.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of COVID-19 can range from none at all to severe breathing difficulty. Fever and cough are the most common symptoms, whereas shortness of breath is rare but indicates a more serious form of the illness. Symptoms may appear between 2 to 14 days after exposure. Thus far, the vast majority of people affected have mild symptoms and fully recover.
How prevalent is the illness in the United States?
As of March 6, 2020, Africa has over 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Many of these individuals became infected while traveling overseas, and were quarantined in hospitals upon their return to the U.S. However, we now know of many individuals in the U.S. whose infections cannot be explained by travel or close contact with other known cases, suggesting that the virus is spreading in some communities. For more details, check the CDC update on cases in Africa.
How can I protect myself?
We recommend practicing good hygiene in the same way you would protect yourself from colds and the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Close contact is considered more than a few minutes within 6 feet of a sick person or direct contact like kissing or sharing utensils.
- Stay away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- If you are concerned about virus transmissions in your area, you can consider avoiding crowded places or group events, or working from home if teleworking is an option for you.
While a vaccine is in development, known medications are ineffective in preventing or treating COVID-19.
At this point, since the overall risk is still low, wearing a mask to protect yourself is unnecessary unless you are personally at high risk of contracting the disease (see the section titled “I’m at higher risk for viral infection” below). Medical masks are in limited supply nationwide and are reserved for first responders, healthcare providers, and highest-risk patients. We will keep our members informed if our guidance or mask availability changes.
Should I be tested?
As of March 6, 2020, all testing for COVID-19 is still being coordinated by local Departments of Public Health. Officials are working to make testing equipment available to other clinics, and we will let our members know if testing becomes available at One Medical offices.
Based on the latest CDC guidance and testing capacity, we recommend testing for people who:
- Have traveled to a country with widespread cases of COVID-19 in the past two weeks or
- Have been in close contact with someone who has a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19
…and have the following symptoms:
- Cough or shortness of breath
The CDC also recommends testing for COVID-19 among individuals with severe respiratory illness who require hospitalization, even if they have no history of travel or known exposure to the virus. Recommendations will continue to change as we learn more about the virus. The CDC maintains a list of countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the level of risk in each country will change as more information is gathered.
I think I’m at risk and want to get checked. What should I do?
If any of the above applies to you, we recommend contacting our 24/7 virtual care team or your local department of public health to discuss self-monitoring with public health supervision. If you do meet the criteria for immediate testing, our team will help you find the best local designated testing center.
If you do not meet the criteria currently required to be tested by the CDC, One Medical is here to provide a care plan based on your symptoms, stay in close contact throughout your recovery and reevaluate needs for testing if your condition changes.
Where can I go to have my symptoms evaluated in person?
To protect yourself and others, please avoid coming to a One Medical office or other healthcare facility unless directed to do so by your care provider, our virtual team, or a public health department official. Only a limited number of healthcare facilities in the US are currently equipped to diagnose COVID-19. We’re working closely with local departments of public health and can assist in directing our members to the best care facility in their area for testing.
I’m at higher risk for viral infection. What should I do to reduce my risk?
People over the age of 60, those who are pregnant, or on medications that weaken the immune system (such as chemotherapy or immunomodulators) are at higher risk of infection and complications of infection. If you fall into one of these categories, you may want to consider following some of the more aggressive “social distancing” strategies if there’s known COVID-19 transmission in your area.
Will medications like Tamiflu help?
Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and other prescription medication are ineffective for treatment or prevention of COVID-19. Since this current outbreak overlaps with the typical flu season, you might benefit from medication if you’re having symptoms, as they’re more likely to be caused by the typical influenza virus. Please reach out to our 24/7 virtual care team through the “Treat Me Now” feature on our app for further guidance if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms without any known risk for COVID-19 exposure.
For anyone with a cold, flu or similar illness, we recommend plenty of rest, good hydration, and over-the-counter medications for symptom control, as needed.
Should I avoid traveling?
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Department of State has issued travel advisories for several countries. We recommend adjusting your international travel plans accordingly. While most domestic travel is probably safe, we also recommend reconsidering domestic travel for anyone at higher risk of infection (see “I’m at higher risk of infection” above.)