The Coronavirus: What You Should Know
What Is the Current Status of the Virus?
In January, a novel coronavirus began making headlines as its effects were first being noticed in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Evidence points to a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, denoting that the virus likely spread from animals (bats) to people, and then people to people. The novel coronavirus, aptly named SARS-COV-2 (or COVID-19), is in the same family as the SARS and MERS viruses that made the news in recent years.
As of February 29th, the CDC has confirmed occurrences of COVID-19 in 60 locations internationally, including the United States. There have been more than 90,000 confirmed cases and at least 3,000 deaths worldwide. As of this weekend, over 100 cases have been identified in the US (in more than 15 states). More than 60 of these cases are in California and Washington State combined, a majority of which include passengers from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship. There have been six recorded deaths due to the virus, five of which were at a nursing home in Washington State. However, several patients (some of the earliest confirmed in the US) have already recovered and are returning to normal day-to-day life.
The virus is believed to spread predominantly through person-to-person contact, as the CDC defines: (1) “Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet),” and (2) “Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
Contagion from surface-to-person is less likely but has not yet been ruled out.
While full clinical understanding of the virus is still being pieced together, reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe (think cold-like symptoms all the way to death). Currently, the overall risk level for most communities in the United States is low, but keep in mind that people aged 65 and older, young children, pregnant women, and those who are immunocompromised or experiencing pre-existing conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney conditions are at a heightened risk.
“At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.” - CDC
What Steps Can Be Taken to Prevent the Spread of the Virus?
There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, so it’s important that greater measures are taken to avoid both the reception as well as spread of the virus. So, what should you be doing? According to the CDC, you should:
- Avoid close contact (within six feet) of people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Currently, the CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19 (rather, they should be used by people showing symptoms of the virus to help prevent its spread to others).
- 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 (or touching any surfaces, handles, etc. that are touched by others throughout the day).
For Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals
As a veteran ED nurse having supported large healthcare companies through Ebola preparation during the last decade, I’m speaking to you now as a fellow nurse. With COVID-19 occurrence impacting the U.S. and spreading globally in the recent weeks, we want to stress our gratitude for what you do everyday.
As experienced clinicians, our knowledge and skills are even more impactful during times like these. And, as the most trusted profession, the care, education, and advocacy we provide regularly is even more necessary. Our Nursing Code of Ethics here and our professional obligation calls us to support the health of the population we serve.
Although the disease is not widespread in the U.S., we want to be ready to respond and help everyone everywhere get the care they deserve. So, please be prepared to answer some basic screening questions (and perhaps undergo some extended screening processes) from CDC guidelines during the onboarding process at most facilities.
Your health and safety - as those who ensure the health and safety of all others - are a clear priority. Please see the latest information for healthcare providers from the CDC here. We expect information to be changing daily, so it’s important that you stay up to date.
We are confident that measures being taken and resources provided at healthcare facilities will win the day, but each and every one of us is an important piece of making sure this is the case. Ask questions of your clinical teams, ensure you know where PPE is and how to use it, and stay safe by doing all the best nursing practices you know. Patients need us, and we thank you for being on the frontlines of care every day.