Update: In addition to cough, fever and shortness of breath, possible symptoms of COVID-19 have been expanded to also include sore throat, weakness, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting and/or loss of smell. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please access the free screening questionnaire via MyBSWHealth.
With so much information swirling around the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), you likely have a head full of questions and worries, the biggest being this — how can you protect yourself and your family?
Here’s the good news from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): For most people, the virus is mild. And just like any other virus, common sense safety measures can help you prevent illness while at home and abroad.
Basic infection control steps
These tips may seem like common sense, but the best thing you can do is follow current CDC prevention and treatment guidelines, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- If you’re sick, stay home.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with cleaning spray or wipes.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol as a second option if soap and water aren’t readily available.
- Make sure you follow proper handwashing technique.
- Teach your children to wash their hands and follow these important safety guidelines.
Preventing coronavirus while you travel
Just like any other virus, common sense safety measures can help you prevent illness while at home and abroad.
If you and your family are planning to travel in the coming days, take extra precautions while passing through airports and using public transportation. In addition to the above basic safety measures, you should pay attention to the following travel concerns:
- Stay up to date on travel health notices issued by the CDC. These notices could change on a day-to-day basis for different destinations.
- Warning Level 3: CDC recommends travelers avoid nonessential travel to these destinations.
- Alert Level 2: Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.
- Watch Level 1: Travelers should use usual precautions.
- Be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, but keep in mind that many respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, can cause similar symptoms.
- Shortness of breath
- As with any trips, make sure you have your doctor’s contact information handy and locate the nearest hospital.
- Be courteous of those around you. Do your part to fight stigma against travelers — spread kindness, not fear.
Face masks are currently only recommended for people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. The CDC does not recommend that you wear a face mask as a safeguard to protect from respiratory illness if you are well, unless your doctor recommends it.
This podcast episode of “Registered Nurse, Unregistered Thoughts” was recorded on February 28, 2020.
When to see a doctor
If you are feeling symptoms of respiratory illness, first know that many different viruses can cause similar symptoms. Chances are, your illness is due to a more common virus like influenza. However, be sure to tell your doctor about any recent international travels or existing medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, that may put you at higher risk of becoming seriously ill.
If you spent time at an international destination with community spread of coronavirus and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing, take these steps:
- Seek medical advice. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your recent travel to any areas with community spread of coronavirus and your symptoms.
- Avoid contact with others.
- Do not travel while sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean your hands by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol immediately after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
Since we are still in the early stages of learning about this disease, there is much we don’t yet know. Follow along with the CDC for the most up-to-date information and recommendations.