Since we last spoke with Jeff Toll, MD, the coronavirus has spread significantly, and cases of COVID-19 are up. If you’re anything like me, you’re fighting major anxiety over getting sick. And our environment isn’t helping — rows of empty shelves in toilet paper and hand soap aisles are a pretty freaky sight in this context. There’s no question that this is something to take seriously, but is this really cause for panic? Luckily, Dr. Toll is back to answer our latest questions.
How serious is this really?
The answer hinges on a few factors, starting with where you live. “There is a totally unique situation in every country,” Dr. Toll says. “ [The US] still does not have any ability to test for the virus at the local level which is by far the most important factor in stopping the spread. Until there is better testing, this will continue to spread — and case numbers will be massively underreported.”
Severity of the COVID-19 illness itself also varies, based on individual conditions. Overall mortality rate on average seems to be a 1-3% chance, according to Dr. Toll. However, this statistic doesn’t apply to everyone. “This is a pulmonary predominant disease,” says Dr. Toll. “Those with pulmonary problems, like asthma, COPD, or those who smoke, particularly those who are over 80 years old, are likely at a 5-10% mortality rate. Those who are young and without medical problems, are very likely <1%.”
Should I stay home from work?
Especially if you work in close quarters, Dr. Toll thinks this is a good step to take. “Most employers would probably save money to offer paid sick leave even if it’s not mandatory to prevent spread in their workforce,” he says. And if you do contract the coronavirus, you are not obligated to tell your employer. “This would violate their health privacy,” Toll says, “but if they are sick, they should self-quarantine.”
And while it’s always good to be stocked up on paper goods and hand soap, don’t worry if your house doesn’t look like a doomsday prepper’s bunker. Make sure you have what you need in case you have to stay home and recover, but don’t feel like you have to be apocalypse-ready.
“Until there is better testing, this will continue to spread — and case numbers will be massively under reported.”
What should I do if I get sick?
First things first, it’s important to know how to recognize if you’re coming down with COVID-19. “Most people are asymptomatic for 5-7 days, which is the incubation period for the virus,” says Dr. Toll. After that, coughing, a fever, and trouble breathing are key symptoms to look out for.
If you do exhibit these symptoms, Dr. Toll suggests that people “stay home and self-quarantine unless symptoms are severe; if they go straight to the hospital they are likely to infect many others.” To be clear, Dr. Toll notes that “quarantine means stay home or stay away from others and groups.” If you have severe symptoms and suspect you need medical intervention, call ahead before you visit a doctor. They need to know if there’s a chance you have the virus so they can take steps to protect you and others.
What can I do to stay safe?
The coronavirus is spread the same way as the flu — through secretions from coughing and sneezing. “People should be mindful to wash hands, avoid handshakes, and avoid large crowds – particularly if they are in contact with those susceptible people,” says Dr. Toll. “Immunocompromised patients should be very careful.” We’re also sorry to say that if you got a flu shot this year, you’re not immune to the coronavirus. “These are 2 separate viruses,” Dr. Toll says. “The flu shot offers 0% protection against the coronavirus.”
Remember, it all comes down to some simple instructions: wash your hands regularly (Dr. Toll says 20 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water is enough) and stay home and avoid contact with others if you have a cough and fever.