HOUSTON – The coronavirus outbreak has generated questions from people across the globe. KPRC 2 wanted to take the opportunity to answer some questions on the minds of many on the effectiveness of the stay-home order and life after the virus.
Here are some questions answered by Dr. Jill Weatherhead, who is an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.
1. Now that the predicted community outbreak spread is a reality, what should people do moving forward?
Unfortunately, the path forward means staying put. Stay home unless there is an essential activity that needs to be done like grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions or seeking medical attention. Limiting the times you are out in public spaces is important even if you are feeling well.
2. How important is the stay-home order to ending the outbreak or halting it?
Because the virus is spread person-to-person through close contact, the stay-at-home order is necessary. This certainly applies to people who are sick but also for those that are presumably healthy as well. As more information is understood about this virus it continues to highlight the importance of physical distancing through staying home. It has been described that individuals who are “pre-symptomatic”, meaning they show no signs of illness but are infected with the virus and shedding the virus, may be playing a role in community spread. Thus, you may be infected and are putting the community at risk if you venture out into public spaces. Because of this issue, staying home to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to other people could play a major role in slowing down transmission.
3. What should people continue to do after the outbreak is contained?
After the pandemic is controlled there will be many lessons to learn and it will take time to sort through what worked and what didn’t work. However, general community efforts, working together to stop the rapid spread of infections in the future will need to be a priority.
a. Simple daily measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases should be ingrained into our societal norms including regular hand-washing, cleaning off common surfaces and objects with disinfectants and supportive work and school environments that encourage staff and students to stay home if they are ill.
b. Receiving all of your age-appropriate vaccines. The diseases that we vaccinate against, such as measles and influenza, could cause devastating outbreaks in the future if people are not receiving their vaccines on schedule. We are currently experiencing what it is like to have an infection spread within our community without having a vaccine available. Vaccines allow people to build immunity to infectious diseases so that outbreaks don’t occur. Hopefully, we will be able to add a COVID-19 vaccine to our infectious disease-fighting toolbox in the near future.
c. Lastly, it is critical that we invest significantly into our public health infrastructure so that if/when there is an emerging or re-emerging infectious disease in the future, we are prepared with rapid testing capabilities and biotech platforms that aid in the development of treatments and vaccines.
4. How effective is it to wear a mask?
The idea of using community-wide masks (specifically cloth facemasks, scarves, bandanas) to prevent the spread of respiratory pathogens like SARS-CoV2 is currently being discussed as a means to slow person-to-person transmission. Transmission of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is thought to be due to the release of respiratory droplets into the air from an infected person through sneezing, coughing or even talking. Additionally, it is now understood that individuals who are otherwise well-appearing may be shedding the virus in respiratory droplets prior to showing symptoms. This is called “pre-symptomatic.”
The idea of wearing a mask in the community is to contain respiratory droplets in the facemask in case a person is infected but “pre-symptomatic” in order to reduce exposure to others in public spaces. The use of community-wide masks is not intended at this time to prevent an uninfected individual from getting infected because the efficacy of these masks to prevent infection in the community remains unknown. Thus, physical distancing by staying home even if you are well and frequent hand hygiene are still critical to slowing the spread of the virus within the community.
While many countries, as well as regions within the United States, have implemented the use of community-wide mask-wearing, the data to support their universal use has not been confirmed. However, the use of medical facemasks in high-risk environments as personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and first responders is imperative. In the setting of potential worldwide shortages of medical facemasks, community members should be encouraged to not use these medical facemasks (use home masks instead) unless instructed by their healthcare provider in order to preserve the supply for high-risk workers and care-takers.
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