by Dr. Constance M. Gistand

With the arrival of a new decade and a new year in January 2020, so many of us were feverishly making plans for this upcoming year and beaming with excitement and anticipation just thinking of what great things the new year would hold. Yes, 2020 ushered in countless hopes, dreams, and goals for many this upcoming year.  However, no one knew in just a few short weeks after the new year that a global pandemic was lurking around the corner and would insidiously arrive on our shores in the U.S and life as we know it would be drastically changed. 

Coronavirus is a novel or new virus that originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It is believed that the virus probably originated from exotic animals and subsequently transmitted to humans. This novel virus has now spread worldwide and has caused a global pandemic infecting over 12 million people in over one hundred countries. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease caused by this virus–the disease is called COVID-19. This virus can be transmitted through respiratory droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings or speaks. Or someone can also contract the disease by touching hard surfaces (doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, phones, tables, etc.) that may contain the virus and then touch one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Keep in mind, some people are infected with the virus and do not have any symptoms which is why we have to maintain a physical distance from people who do not live in our immediate household and engage in social distancing whenever possible. Symptoms appear in approximately three to fourteen days after exposure. Once infected a person can develop a wide array of nonspecific symptoms such as cough, fever, chills, weakness, body aches, loss of taste and smell, headache, fatigue, nausea, etc. 

According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard, as of July 10,2020, the United States leads the world with 3,158,183 confirmed cases and 133,777 deaths. Here in Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, there are 74,636 confirmed cases and 3,272 deaths reported. The cases keep climbing with seemingly no end in sight to stop the spread of this virus in our communities. It is uncertain if one is infected with this virus if lasting immunity or protection from re-infection occurs. Moreover, top global researchers and infectious disease experts report that a safe and effective vaccine will most likely take another year  to develop and to mass produce millions of dosages of vaccine for clinical use. 

Given these sobering facts, how can we safely live with our new norm in this age of a highly infectious and potentially fatal coronavirus? Prevention is still the key to remaining safe during a global pandemic. These are some of the most effective prevention strategies that are recommended by public health experts:

• Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water (if soap and water not available use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol)

• Adhere to social distancing guidelines and keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and someone else; the closer you are to other people, the greater your risk of getting sick

• Work from home if you can and stay home as much as possible

• Limit the trips to the store and only go into the store for necessary or essential items

• Try to arrange for curbside pick up or home delivery for groceries and other essential items 

• Wear a mask in public (when you are around other people) that will cover your nose and mouth

• When going out in public, always keep these items on hand: mask or face covering, hand sanitizer, and eyewear (glasses, goggles, or sunglasses)

• If you have had exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID 19, self-quarantine for at least 14 days so that you do not infect others

• If you develop any symptoms of cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to be tested for COVID19

• Avoid touching your face hands or mouth

• Clean and disinfect hard surfaces frequently

• Avoid all cruise travel; Limit air travel to essential travel only

• Avoid all public indoor dining

• Choose to exercise outdoors vs. going to a gym (indoors)

• Choose virtual meetings or gatherings with family and friends and social organizations rather than in person gatherings

• Request telehealth visits with your health provider whenever clinically appropriate

• If it is essential to meet with anyone in person who is not a member of your immediate household—WEAR A MASK!

The fear and anxiety of the unknown can be stressful and overwhelming. Being socially isolated can intensify our level of stress and exacerbate any pre-existing underlying behavioral health disorders. Contact your health provider to discuss effective ways to cope with new stressors you are experiencing related to this global pandemic.  COVID 19 will exist among us for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we must learn to develop new lifestyle changes as we adjust to this new societal norm in order to remain safe from infection. We all miss engaging in some of our favorite social activities, however, to keep ourselves, loved ones and the most vulnerable amongst us safe, we all must incorporate good prevention strategies into our daily lives.

Constance M. Gistand, MD, MPH, FACP. is an adjunct assistant professor at LSU School of Medicine.

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