By Mary Virgallito, Special to The Outlook
During a time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty, I’d like to take this opportunity to review what is currently known about COVID-19 and provide a refresher on the basics about preventing the spread of respiratory diseases. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.
How it is spread: COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses or inhaled into the lungs of people within close contact (about 6 feet) of an infected person who has produced these droplets. Surface-to-person transmission of COVID-19 has not yet been documented but current evidence suggests that the virus can remain viable for hours to days on a variety of surfaces. Therefore, it is recommended to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work for this purpose.
How to protect yourself: Wash your hands often with soap and water (of any temperature) for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your face. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Practice physical distancing, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. This is especially important for older people and those with underlying conditions (heart disease, diabetes, lung disease) that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.
How to protect others: Much of the physical distancing we are being asked to do is to keep ourselves as well as others safe, especially those at high risk. Gov. Newsom’s recent edict to shelter in place orders us to stay home (with a few exceptions). You should absolutely stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or with a tissue when you cough or sneeze (and don’t forget to throw away the tissue). Immediately wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you cough or sneeze. If you are sick and need to see a health-care provider, wear a face mask. Also check with your health-care provider about the availability about a telemedicine versus an in-person appointment. Those who are caring for you should also wear a face mask. Face masks should not be worn if you are not sick. Personal protective equipment is in short supply and should be reserved for health-care workers.
This information was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control. I strongly encourage everyone to visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html for more in-depth information and daily updates.
Mary Virgallito is associate administrator of Quality and Patient Safety at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.