Coronavirus: Protecting yourself and your loved ones

As our nation takes unprecedented steps to try to stave off a widespread outbreak of coronavirus, we want to give you some information about the virus as well as suggestions to protect yourself and your loved ones.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging us to practice social distancing. This entails avoiding crowds of 50 or more and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others when outside of our homes. The White House this week revised the guidance and recommends avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.

You may have heart the term “flatten the curve.” This refers to an attempt to slow the spread of the virus so that the number of cases do not overwhelm our health care system, as we are seeing in Italy. The United States actually has fewer total hospital beds per capita than Italy (2.8 per 1,000 people)—but we have more critical care beds than any other country.

Governments are implementing draconian measures to enforce social distancing in order to ensure that our health system can keep up with the foreseeable demand for care. California has called for people in high risk groups—i.e., people over 65 and those with pre-existing medical conditions and weakened immune systems—to stay home altogether. San Francisco and other cities have ordered residents to “shelter in place” for at least the next three weeks. This means they cannot leave their homes except for essential services, which are limited to medical care, grocery shopping, and the post office. If they leave their county, they will not be permitted to return home.

What you should know about COVID-19

This is not an ordinary flu. While it is too early to determine a precise mortality rate, estimates range from 1.4% to 3.4%, which is many times higher than seasonal influenza, which has a mortality rate of about .1% in the US. To put that into perspective, about 34,000 people died in the U.S. during last year’s flu season (2018-2019). The year before that, over 60,000 people died—and that was with access to a flu vaccine. Although a coronavirus vaccine is currently being tested in Seattle, widespread availability of a vaccine is not anticipated for another 12-18 months.

Epidemiologists at the Imperial College of London estimate that as many as 2.2 million Americans could die if the virus progresses without any control measures. Their model shows a better outcome with the implementation of stringent infection avoidance protocols. This disease progression model and others like it are informing government officials in the US and Great Britain concerning suppression strategies.

Twenty percent of coronavirus cases are several or critical, requiring respiratory intervention, with 5% of total cases requiring mechanical ventilation.

It is important to note that most people who get the coronavirus are not likely to become gravely ill. However, twenty percent of cases globally have been severe or critical, requiring respiratory intervention, with 5% of total cases requiring mechanical ventilation. While elderly people are at the greatest risk, we are seeing cases of younger individuals who need critical care. Children do not seem to be seriously affected if they are otherwise healthy and there have been no reported cases thus far of children under 9 years old dying from the virus.

The virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by individuals who don’t appear sick. A recent report from Germany found that patients were contagious even when their symptoms were mild or non-existent. A co-author of the report said, “The bottom line is that you are infectious even when you have no lung disease. You don’t have to be seriously ill to pass the virus onto other people. This virus is spreading even in very asymptomatic patients.”

A study of Chinese patients also suggests “that infected individuals can be infectious before they become symptomatic.”

COVID-19 has a much longer incubation time—4 to 14 days—compared to the influenza virus with an incubation time of 1-4 days. This means people are contagious longer. Moreover, coronavirus is very hardy and can remain viable in the air and on surfaces for extended periods of time. A recent study published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other federal agencies found that “viable virus could be detected could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.”

With all of the scary information out there, how can you protect yourself and your loved ones?

  1. Remain calm. Do not panic. We will see more people getting sick and we will see more deaths from coronavirus in this country before the number of cases levels off. But the pandemic will not last forever. China saw its first coronavirus case in December 2019 (hence the name of the virus: COVID-19) and started lockdowns in mid-January. Two months later, many of those restrictions are lifting and life is starting to return to normal.
  2. Wash your hands with soap — often. Scientists say plain soap is actually more effective in killing viruses than hand sanitizer, which is good news since there’s no hand sanitizer available.
  3. Clean your phone.
  4. Wipe down surfaces in your home and business, especially those that get touched a lot, i.e., doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, kitchen counters, etc. The EPA has issued a list of disinfectants effective for use against coronavirus.
  5. Practice social distancing if at all possible. Remember that seemingly healthy people can be infectious. But don’t completely isolate yourself. Reach out to others by phone, FaceTime, or Skype. If you are struggling with loneliness, here are 20 tips for those in quarantine or sheltering at home.
  6. Plan ahead. If you’ve been to a grocery store recently, you know that the shelves are bare and certain items like toilet paper and disinfectant are non-existent. If you are in a high-risk group, use a grocery delivery or “e-cart” service. Be aware that what used to be “same-day” deliveries are now taking 3-4 days in some areas.
  7. Stay informed. You can get the latest information, including a realtime COVID-19 map of cases through Johns Hopkins University’s Corona Virus Resource Center.
  8. Get plenty of sleep and exercise and eat healthy to keep your immune system strong.

We also encourage you to think about preparing an advance health care directive, just in case—especially if you are in a high risk group. As I mentioned above, coronavirus can result in acute respiratory distress, with some patients requiring artificial ventilation. It is important to be sure your documents indicate that you want this treatment in the event you should become incapacitated and unable to express your health care wishes. Click here for Life Legal’s guidance on advance health care directives, which includes a link to state-specific advance directive templates.

Please know that we pray for you—our friends and supporters—daily. We pray you stay healthy and safe and that this virus will run its course quickly. During this time when so many are acting out of fear, let us determine to walk in faith and wisdom.