Antonella Fine, MD, Physician Director of Hospital Infection Control
With COVID-19, or Coronavirus, dominating the news headlines, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information being delivered to you each day. As this is a new disease to impact the world, information about its symptoms and treatment are ever-evolving. Scientists and medical professionals are working tirelessly to understand the disease, and we're focused on delivering the most important information about their findings to our community. Below are Frequently Asked Questions and updates regarding our progress in preparedness.
What is COVID-19 or 2019 novel Coronavirus?
SARS-CoV-2 is a new type of coronavirus causing COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness. It's similar to the virus that caused SARS in 2003. COVID-19 is believed to have originated in animals and then spread to humans originally in Wuhan Province, China. From China, COVID-19 has quickly spread around the world.
How much do I need to worry about this virus?
It's important to keep up to date on information concerning spread and treatment of COVID-19 and to follow the recommendations outlined below, but there is no need to panic. Flu remains much more common right now than COVID-19 and the severity of illness from COVID-19 is not significantly different than that of flu. While the media will highlight the number of people getting very sick, remember that 70% of people will only have mild illness and will recover fully. People with a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems or chronic medical diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and chronic kidney disease. Fortunately, children appear to be relatively protected from COVID-19.
How does the virus spread?
The virus can spread from person to person by coming in contact with respiratory droplets (i.e. secretions if someone coughs directly on you, or touching your eyes, nose or mouth with hands contaminated by infected respiratory droplets in the environment). There is no evidence right now that the virus can be spread by food or packaging.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms can occur anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure but generally occur about 5 days after exposure and include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle or body aches, and less commonly, vomiting or diarrhea.
How sick can I get from COVID-19?
Thankfully, 70-80% of people who get this virus will have very mild illness and will recover without any problem and not require hospitalization or to be seen in an Emergency Department. Children and younger people tend not to get severe illness from COVID-19. People at highest risk of severe illness are the elderly and those with multiple medical problems such as lung diseases and immunocompromised states.
Can I get the virus from casual contact with someone?
It's unlikely that you would get the virus just from casual contact, such as walking past someone. In order to get infected you need to have prolonged close contact with a person infected with the virus, which means being closer than 6 feet to the person, or have direct contact with infected secretions, i.e. being directly coughed on.
How can I keep myself from getting sick?
The single most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently! Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
When you cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow and not your hand. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands.
Facemasks are only recommended to be worn as part of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if you are sick with symptoms of COVID-19. Wearing a mask when you are not sick may actually increase your chance of getting ill because you'll be touching your face, nose and mouth more frequently. Inappropriate use of masks also decreases the much needed supply of masks for the healthcare facilities to care for patients.
What should I do if I start feeling sick?
If you develop symptoms of fever, cough and/or flu-like symptoms you should stay home until your illness resolves. If you're not sure what to do, you should contact your primary care provider by phone before entering a medical care facility.
How do I know my symptoms aren't just the flu?
The symptoms of the flu are almost identical to those of COVID-19. However, if you have these symptoms it is much more likely that you have the flu than COVID-19.
Will my doctor's office or Urgent Care test me for COVID-19?
Right now, testing for COVID-19 is limited and generally only being conducted in cases of illness consistent with COVID-19 and close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient or travel to a high-risk area through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Priority is being given to hospitalized patients and those at risk for severe illness. Some commercial tests are starting to become available, but much like the state testing, do not produce results for 3-4 days. This is an evolving process that is changing daily. At present, however, it is best to call your healthcare provider or Urgent Care BEFORE arriving requesting a test for COVID-19 as testing may or may not be appropriate for you. If you are concerned you may have COVID-19 but you are not tested, it is best to isolate yourself from others at home until your illness resolves, just as you should with the flu.
Is there any treatment for COVID-19?
Many scientists are currently working on developing vaccines and treatment options for COVID-19 and some experimental medications are being used for patients hospitalized with severe illness, but right now the treatment is predominantly supportive. This includes rest, fluids, symptomatic treatment of fever and body aches, staying at home and avoiding contact with others. If you feel like you are having more severe symptoms you should call your doctor and discuss your symptoms over the phone to determine your next steps.
Where can I learn more about COVID-19?
We encourage you to use reputable sites such as the CDC and World Health Organization to obtain up-to-date and reliable information. Please be careful about using information from social media sites and TV media that does not reference reputable sources.
We are committed to providing our community with the latest information and appropriate care for patient safety. As the situation unfolds and changes are made to our policies impacting patients and visitors, we will communicate in a timely manner.