Practical advice from a doctor on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic

Following some simple rules is sufficient in defeating the virus and empowering those who feel worried.

Myupchar March 26, 2020 17:52:23 IST
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Practical advice from a doctor on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic

COVID-19 is gaining a stronghold in the US, with WHO experts projecting that it will be the next epicentre. As of now, there are nearly 70,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths. New York City, the most globalized and densely populated area in the US, has borne the brunt of morbidity as there have been over 33,000 cases and over 320 deaths there. 

Practical advice from a doctor on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic

Representative image. Pixabay

Dr David Price, of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC which sees scores of COVID-19 patients daily and is treating those critically ill, held a webinar earlier this week about his experiences. He gave some practical advice about how to protect yourself and your family during these unpredictable times. He stated that despite increasing cases, this is the one time in his life as a medical professional that he is not at all scared. Coronaviruses are well studied and do not hold much mystery - at least the basic biology and pathology is well understood. Following some simple rules is sufficient in defeating the virus and empowering those who feel worried. Here is a quick summary of his practical wisdom:

The virus is passed almost exclusively from the hands to the mucous membranes of the eye, nose or mouth

The vast majority of cases occur when the virus is transferred from the hand to the face. If you touch a doorknob, a tap, the TV remote, cutlery, remember to wash your hands afterwards. Dr Price said that it is very unlikely to get the disease if your hands are clean and you develop the habit to not touch your face. 

The disease can spread through the air where the virus could be present in an aerosolized form - however, this requires you to be in prolonged contact with an infected person. That means a 15-20 minute interaction in a poorly ventilated room. So it's a good idea to keep your house well-ventilated by opening the windows during the day.

Have hand sanitizer with you if you are going out

It is best to wash your hands after you touch something but if you are going outside your house, always carry a hand sanitizer with you. Make sure you use it whenever you touch any surfaces, especially things that many people come in contact with like elevator buttons, door, handrails, etc. 

You do not need surgical masks

Dr Price said that it is a good idea to cover your face with a mask or improvised bandana. However, this is not to prevent the disease, but more about training yourself to not touch your face constantly. A mask will act as a physical barrier and a reminder that this tic needs to be discouraged. You do not need an N-95 or high-grade mask unless you are a medical worker, a suspected patient or in close contact with someone who is sick.

Practice social distancing and restrict your social circle to within the family for now

Social distancing is important - you do not know who has the disease, and you may be a carrier as well. For the time being, do not have sustained contact with people outside your immediate family. However, this does not mean that you can’t go out for essential services - the aim is to distance and not self-isolate. Subject to local laws during the lockdown in your area, you can go to the grocery store to buy supplies, and short walks if they are allowed. Just remember to stay 6 feet away from people and wash your hands if you touch anything. 

Do not go to the hospital unless you are short of breath 

You may run a fever, have a cough and feel downcast overall. If it is the coronavirus, most people will begin to feel better after 5 days to a week. Check what your local authorities have to say about a situation like this and follow those steps. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, go to the hospital. Better yet, call ahead and let them know to expect you. 

At this time, telemedicine is a very attractive option. Find out if you can consult with your family doctor over the phone to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospitals. 

As for testing, it depends on your area. India still hasn’t ramped up testing, and private labs are slowly entering the fray to make up for the gap. Avoid getting a test if it is not easily available currently; consult a doctor and if they suggest getting a test, do so then.

Having said that, if testing is widely available and your community is experiencing an outbreak, then get tested.

If someone is sick in the house, try isolating them

If someone develops a fever and is unwell, have them stay in a separate room and use a different bathroom if possible. Practice the basic steps with heightened caution; wash your hands often and have the person who is sick wear a mask. Limit contact and practice social distancing until the person is feeling better.

The situation is different if there are grandparents or elderly people in the house. If someone is feeling sick, it becomes important to separate the elderly and figure out different living arrangements. If possible, separate people by floor, and don’t let the caretaker of the sick interact with the elderly. Even better, if it is an option to isolate elderly people in a different house, it should be considered as well.

Going to the hospital is not a death sentence

About 10% of those with COVID-19 are hospitalized, and around 2% of them end up in the ICU. Out of those, a strong majority are discharged after 7-10 days on the ventilator as well. 

Do not be cavalier if you are young 

While it is true that you are less likely to fall severely sick if you are younger, it doesn’t mean that it is out of the question. This is not intended to be a cause of alarm but a call to following the simple advice meticulously; wash your hands constantly, avoid touching your face by wearing a non-surgical mask or physical barrier and practice social distancing.

For more tips, read our article on What Is Social Distancing.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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