As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads throughout the world and into the United States, local health departments — and residents — are preparing.
While soap and hand sanitizer remain in good supply throughout the region, face masks are difficult to find. Ironically, it’s soap and hand sanitizer that people should be making sure they have at home and at work.
Masks are unlikely to prevent people from catching this novel coronavirus and proper and frequent handwashing are the best defenses for most people. The only people who need masks are those working in close contact with infected people, including nurses and doctors.
Neither Alexandria nor Fairfax County have reported any cases of novel coronavirus (as of March 1). There are no confirmed cases in Virginia.
“Alexandria Health Department is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health guidelines to rapidly identify persons who may be infected with COVID-19. AHD has provided Alexandria’s healthcare providers guidance and resources for screening and testing persons suspected of being infected with COVID-19, while also protecting their staff and the public,” according to the City of Alexandria.
Alexandria City Public Schools is working closely with local health department officials and preparing. At this time, there are no recommendations from federal health officials to close schools.
“ACPS School Health Services is working with schools to be vigilant in monitoring the student body, especially in cases where students exhibit symptoms associated with the virus,” according to an ACPS statement released last week. “As a reminder, common cold and flu viruses are not unusual during the winter season. Precautions are recommended. We ask that everyone do their part to stay healthy. Wash hands frequently, monitor your health, and please keep your students home when they exhibit cold and flu-like symptoms.”
In Fairfax County and in Fairfax County Public Schools, health officials are following the same protocols. There are no current plans to cancel classes for students, but parents are encouraged to keep students home who may be sick — the same advice that applies throughout the school year. Health officials and school officials are sharing information and resources.
What is the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19)?
According to the World Health Organization, “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.”
Coronavirus is not like the flu, as President Donald J. Trump questioned in February. While they are both infectious respiratory viruses, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, they are different viruses. Unlike the flu, there is evidence that the coronavirus can be remain in the air after the affected person has left the room. In addition, treatments are different — while there are flu medications that can fight the virus, there are none for this coronavirus, leaving doctors to only treat symptoms. There is also no vaccine yet for this coronavirus, and it may be a year or more until one is actually developed and manufactured for use on humans.
The primary symptoms of this coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are:
- Shortness of breath
If you think you may have this coronavirus, first quarantine yourself and call your medical provider for instructions before going to the hospital.
Recommendations from the CDC for any sickness, including COVID-19, as are follows:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- 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.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
While disinfecting wipes (like those made by Clorox or Lysol) can help keep surfaces free of germs, there is no scientific evidence that those can kill this specific strain of coronavirus on contact, even though it can kill similar viruses on hard, non-porous surfaces. Washing your hands is your best defense.
The CDC does not recommend that people who are healthy use facemasks, as they will not necessarily provide protection against this coronavirus. Facemasks are critical for people who are taking care of someone with COVID-19, including home health care workers, doctors and nurses.
Washing Your Hands
By some estimates, more than half of the population washes their hands incorrectly. Here’s how to do it correctly — using clean running water, plenty of soap and washing the fronts and back of hands (and under the nails) for at least 20 seconds. In addition, drying your hands with a clean towel or air is important.
Here’s more on hand washing:
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso