I was so hoping that my column this time would be on a totally different topic – toenail fungus or sunburn, let’s say. But, unfortunately, COVID is still with us, and appears to not be going anywhere anytime soon. Let’s look at what has changed since my last article three months ago in the April 2020 issue. Turns out COVID is much worse than we thought it would be.
One of the problems with COVID is how easily it spreads, which means more people can get it (it is even easier to catch than the flu). Stores are closed, people are out of work, kids are being home-schooled, and the whole world was turned on its ear. And, sadly, the death rate from COVID is high. The number of deaths from COVID over the past three months in the United States alone is 115,436 (at the time of this writing in June 2020). When I wrote my last article in March for the April edition, only 28 people had died from the disease.
It was originally thought there were only three symptoms of COVID-19: fever, cough and shortness of breath. But as the pandemic continues, it has become clear there are other symptoms that may also be associated with it. Not everyone gets all the same symptoms or gets them to the same extent (which is true for all diseases). They can vary from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus – that’s called the incubation period. You don’t know if you have been exposed until you develop symptoms or get tested. You can be with someone who appears healthy but is incubating the virus in their body and passing it to you when they speak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the recently added symptoms include chills, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. Look for emergency warning signs for COVID. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and/or bluish lips or face.
There are more tests available now. There are two types of tests – one is a viral test and tells you if you have the virus at the time you are tested, and the other is an antibody test. This test tells you if you were infected and now have developed antibodies (usually 1-3 weeks after the illness). Antibodies are the substances that protect us from new infections with the same virus. However, no one is 100% sure that coronavirus antibodies will protect you well or for how long. Check with your local health department regarding test availability and if you need a health care provider’s order to get one.
There are vaccines and medicines being researched and developed by several companies to help people prevent and treat infection with COVID. There was some hope that a drug called Hydroxychloroquine might be useful but, according to scientific researchers, it does not treat or prevent the disease (and can also have some very dangerous side effects).
Initially, it was believed that masks would not be of much good to the general population and were to be reserved for health care providers in close contact with COVID patients. But public health officials changed their minds as they saw that in areas where people were wearing masks and maintaining a distance of six feet between people, there were fewer cases of the virus. After all, it kept the number of cases down in South Korea and other countries, so it was worth a try here. Wearing a mask cuts down by 85% the risk of transmission from one person to the other. By wearing a mask in public, we protect each other.
So, what’s the worst that can happen with COVID? Dare I state the obvious here? People die from COVID. Most at risk are older people and people with underlying conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. People of color die at twice the rate that white people do. It’s possible that there’s a chronic form of COVID, as some people who were sick continue to have symptoms for weeks after the initial illness. Some people have ended up on kidney dialysis because their kidneys have failed, and some are having neurological problems like memory loss and headaches. Patients who spend weeks lying in a hospital bed with a tube down their throat while a ventilator breathes for them must relearn how to walk, swallow and talk.
Is there any good news? Yes! Where people have practiced social distancing and consistent mask use, the number of cases and deaths has gone down. In fact, the number of cases around the world has been coming down, and in the places hardest hit at the beginning – China, Italy, Spain – those countries have started to reopen their economies. There is also some evidence that a drug called Remdesevir may improve symptoms and decrease the likelihood of someone dying from COVID.
There have been a few studies showing that monkeys (which are biologically close to humans) and human beings are developing antibodies to COVID. This gives hope that once you’ve had COVID you could be immune and won’t get sick from it again. What we don’t know is if this immunity will last for a significant period of time. Only time and continued research will tell.
So, where do we go from here? Continued and consistent monitoring by public health departments is necessary to inform us about the COVID situation. What we do know is that in places where there was limited social interaction and face mask use, the numbers of people infected and dying went down. We also know, unfortunately, that when restrictions were lessened, the numbers started going back up. No one likes wearing a face mask – they are uncomfortable, hot, and fog up your glasses. The question to ask yourself is, however, is it worth the risk to myself and my loved ones to go without or should I bear the discomfort to keep everyone safe? On the bright side, you can now get a mask in any color to coordinate with your outfit. And keep washing your hands!
It matters not to COVID what your political affiliations may be – it doesn’t care if you were at a Black Lives Matter rally or a Trump rally. The coronavirus is just looking for a lung to live in and any lung will do. As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Just remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! On a final note, I would like to thank all the truckers out there delivering food, medical supplies, etc. keeping the nation running as we live through these distressing times. You guys and gals rock! Keep up the great work and stay healthy and safe.
~ Norma Stephens Hannigan is a Doctor of Nursing Practice who recently retired after a 43-year career providing direct care and teaching future nurses and nurse practitioners. Dr. Norma has treated many truck drivers at the various clinics she has worked. She currently writes for 10-4 from her home in Newburgh, NY.