Here are key takeaways from KET’s new weekly program on the spread of coronavirus-19 disease, called COVID-19, in Kentucky:
Answers to Common Questions About COVID-19
- What should a person do who thinks he/she has COVID-19 but is only showing mild symptoms such as a fever, cough, and shortness of breath that is not debilitating?
“Our best advice is: stay at home, use Tylenol, fluids and rest, just like you would with any other respiratory illness like the flu,” says Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, M.D., commissioner of the Lexington-Fayette Co. Health Department. “However, if you feel like your symptoms have gotten to the point where you need to see your provider, then call ahead – or if you have access to telemedicine, use that.”
Humbaugh explains that there are currently not enough tests for COVID-19 in the health care system to give to every person who has symptoms. “As a society, we need to think about reserving those precious tests for health care workers and those who are severely ill,” he says. “They need to be moved to the top of the line of priorities as a society.”
- How long can the virus that causes COVID-19 last on surfaces?
Humbaugh says that a recent study showed that, at least in the laboratory under certain conditions, the virus could last for “quite a while” on some surfaces. “But we think that like most viruses, the COVID-19 virus is probably more sensitive to light and hard surfaces to drying out,” he says. “Areas that are dark and damp are probably areas where the virus may exist longer.”
He says that most household cleaners are effective in eliminating the virus from surfaces. He recommends cleaning regularly and thoroughly, “especially high-touch areas like your cellphone and doorknob.”
- Why aren’t persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 identified?
Humbaugh advises citizens to put themselves in the shoes of a person who’s tested positive. “Would you want us to reveal those types of details about you?” he asks. “If we were to reveal that, how would it change the way you go through everyday life?” He explains that the responsibility of public health officials is to protect a patient’s privacy and at the same time do the contact tracing that can identify high-risk persons the patient may have shared physical space with.
- Are there medicines available to treat COVID-19?
“Unfortunately, there aren’t any treatments available for COVID-19 disease,” Humbaugh says. He explains that that researchers are working rapidly to develop anti-viral drugs to treat the disease or find out if existing drugs might be applied to COVID-19. “Right now, it’s symptomatic treatment. Even if you’re very sick and go to the hospital, they will use treatments to try to keep you going, but they don’t have a specific anti-viral medication that’s going to cure this disease.”
- Once a person gets COVID-19, is he/she immune?
Humbaugh says that global health organizations are only starting to learn the complexities of this new viral disease, and since this the first pandemic, whether long-term immunity occurs after a person gets the illness and recovers has yet to be confirmed. “But what we think is, like most viruses – measles, mumps, or other viruses – we develop very long-lasting immunity,” he says. “This could be the exception, but we don’t right now have evidence to say that.”
The Importance of ‘Flattening the Curve’
As more cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Kentucky and across the nation, citizens have quickly become educated about the basics of public health management during an infectious disease pandemic. Since there currently is no vaccine for COVID-19, and there aren’t anti-viral drugs that can treat symptoms, public health departments have stressed the importance of preventing the spread of infection as much as possible. If this does not occur, there is a danger of too many persons becoming infected with COVID-19 in a short period of time, which would threaten to overload the nation’s hospitals with many patients who are severely ill.
“The curve is simply the number of cases of disease over a period of time,” Humbaugh says. “Our goal, at least in this containment phase in public health, is to try to shift the beginning of that curve so it starts later in time.”
Humbaugh explains that his public health department in Lexington and others in Kentucky are conducting early case identification to sequester the persons who test positive away from the rest of the population. They are also identifying any persons who have been in close contact with positive cases and then quarantining them as well.
“Later, as we start to see more community-wide person-to-person transmission, that’s when we want to try to continue to use the social distancing that we’re using now – they are just as important during that phase – to decrease or ‘flatten’ the curve,” Humbaugh says. “ And what that means is we’re trying to lessen the impact all at once on our health care system. We want less cases in a peak, so that we as a society, as a health care delivery system, can take care better and not flood or overwhelm our system. The idea is to really space out cases.”
Protecting the Nursing Home Population
On March 10, Gov. Andy Beshear closed all nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Kentucky to visitors. The decision has bolstered efforts by nursing home administrators to change the daily routines for their residents during the spread of COVID-19, as they are one of the most vulnerable groups to develop serious symptoms if infected.
Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, says that nursing homes and long-term care residences are well-versed in establishing safety protocols for staff coming in to work.
“We had a very bad flu season this year, and they’ve been isolating people based on a flu diagnosis and other things that can spread out easily throughout the community,” Johnson says. “But with regard to COVID-19, we put additional protections in place based on CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and of course, the guidelines our department for public health has given out.”
Under those guidelines, all employees (including emergency personnel and those providing end-of-life care) are screened regularly by taking their temperature and also having them answer a series of questions. Staff members who are sick, or who say they feel sick, are sent home, Johnson says.
Keeping visitors out of nursing homes means that one of the most cherished parts of many residents’ daily or weekly routines – spending face-to-face time with loved ones – is being put on hold for a while. Johnson says that nursing home administrators are being very sensitive to the needs of their residents, especially as anxiety rises due to COVID-19.
“Our members and facilities across the state are trying everything they can to keep their residents in contact with their families,” she says. “We know that’s good for their mental health, which also helps their physical health – it’s very important. They’re using technology like Skype, and Face Time, and we’re encouraging that.
“We’re building a community that’s more virtual than personal, and it’s not the same since it’s a generation that doesn’t necessarily utilize those services,” she adds. “What we don’t want is family members knocking on windows and scaring those individuals – definitely, you should schedule those types of (window side visits).”
Coronavirus: A Kentucky Update is hosted by Dr. Wayne Tuckson. The show informs Kentuckians of the latest developments on COVID-19 and provides valuable information from public officials.
To access state resources, call the state COVID-19 hotline at (800) 722-5725 or go to kycovid19.ky.gov. To submit viewer questions for the March 27 episode of Coronavirus: A Kentucky Update, email email@example.com.