There is a lot of news and "information" of varying quality out there regarding the novel coronavirus,
COVID-19. It is too big and complex to cover completely in a blog post, but it's important to get out some quick points to help people be safe.
First, stop reading the news. Instead check out the CDC and WHO for information regarding COVID-19.
Second, wash your hands. Hand sanitizer is good in a pinch, but frequent thorough hand washing is better. Use water as hot as you can tolerate without burning yourself, soap, and wash for 20-30 seconds (the Happy Birthday song takes about 10 seconds).
Third, shave your beard?!
This one depends a little on your line of work. I shaved my beard Monday evening to be better prepared in case I had to don an N95 mask. COVID-19 seems to be spread by droplet and contact, much like flu and common colds, rather than airborne (such as tuberculosis). Droplet and contact transmission is controlled pretty well with an affected person wearing a simple surgical mask, but they are not the best barrier to protect an uninfected person from exposure. N95 masks are meant to create a tight fit and protect the wearer from airborne pathogens. A beard affects that tight fit. Fortunately we don't need that airborne protection, but I figured it couldn't hurt. Also, I usually shave my beard in the summer anyway and grow it back for ski season (although I was getting used to it and most of my family misses it already!). If you see health care workers wearing N95 masks, don't worry. It doesn't mean COVID-19 has gone airborne. It's just that the N95 gives us a little more protection as we go through a work day of seeing many patients with various ailments.
Fourth, stay home! If you do develop symptoms such as cough, runny nose, or even fever, remember that whether you have COVID-19 or some other infection, it is most likely viral and therefore does not need an antibiotic, and needs no other treatment aside from rest, fluids, and over the counter medications for symptom relief.
HOWEVER, if you or a family member become very ill, with shortness of breath, severe headache, neck stiffness, lethargy, etc., then you need to go to the ER, not because you have COVID-19, but because you are sick and need extra supportive care that cannot be provided at home or in urgent care or your primary doctor's office.
If you need more than home care, but less than an ER visit, call your primary doctor for advice. They will help with triage over the phone to determine whether you may need to go to the ER, make arrangements to have you come in the office while minimizing exposure, or even send a prescription for antiviral or antibiotic if there is possibility of flu or a bacterial infection. Otherwise avoid going to the doctor's office or urgent care to reduce your own risk of exposure and to avoid exposing others.
As an urgent care doctor, this last point is tricky because our whole practice is based on the walk-in. If you decide you need an urgent care visit, please arrive wearing a mask if you have one, or at least with tissues to keep your coughs and sneezes covered before you even enter. If possible, have a healthy friend or family member come in to get a mask for you before you enter.
Even better, consider taking advantage of Telemedicine. Now more than ever this is becoming a very useful tool to provide advice and sometimes treatment for minor illnesses. I have my own virtual practice on www.AmWell.com. It is a sports medicine practice but in this time of need I will accept any urgent care appointments there. I will be opening up my schedule there in the coming days, but you can also email me at ImmediateCareWest13031@gmail.com to request an appointment. But also check with your employer or health insurance, as access to telemedicine may be a benefit available to you. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, go to the ER or call 911. Otherwise telemedicine is a great place to start to get medical advice.
Did I mention wash your hands?