Updated February 27, 2020. This post will continue to be updated as more information is available.
The outbreak of a novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 continues to be a global health challenge. The virus has since spread from China to numerous countries including Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy. U.S. health officials are actively preparing for the possibility of outbreaks here, and several counties, including San Francisco and Orange County, CA have issued emergency declarations. The first known community transmission of the virus in the U.S. was reported in the Sacramento, California area on February 26, 2020.
Below, we answer our most frequently asked questions about COVID-19:
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new variant of a very common family of viruses called coronaviruses, which cause respiratory tract infections ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Though most commonly found in animals like cattle, cats, and bats, coronaviruses can in some cases infect and spread between humans, such as with COVID-19 and SARS, which sickened nearly 8,000 in a 2003 outbreak.
How is it transmitted?
While early reports of COVID-19 were linked to markets in Wuhan, China selling live animals and seafood, human-to-human transmission has since been confirmed. The CDC notes that COVID-19 is passed through coughing, sneezing, close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands, or touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth without washing hands. In short, it is passed along like the flu.
What are the symptoms?
Those infected with the current COVID-19 can experience a range of symptoms, from none at all to severe breathing difficulty. Fever and cough are the most common symptoms, whereas shortness of breath is rare but indicates a more serious form of the illness. Symptoms may appear between 2 to 14 days after exposure.
Am I at risk?
As of February 25th, 2020, the CDC recommends testing for COVID-19 in people who:
- Have traveled to China in the past 2 weeks or been in close contact with someone who has a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus.
And have any of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
Recommendations will continue to change as we learn more about the virus and testing may be indicated for anyone with the above symptoms who have recently traveled from a city or country with a growing outbreak of COVID-19. The CDC website has a list of countries that have confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the level of risk in each country will vary day to day while more information is gathered.
How prevalent is the virus in the United States?
On February 26, 2020, the CDC confirmed that a person near Sacramento, California has contracted the coronavirus without traveling outside the United States or coming in contact with another patient known to have the infection. This could be the first sign that the disease may be spreading within a local community.
This is the first known instance of person-to-person transmission in the general public in the U.S. Previously known instances of person-to-person transmission in the U.S. include one instance in Chicago, Illinois, and one in San Benito County, California. Both cases were after close, prolonged interaction with a family member who returned from Wuhan, China and had tested positive for COVID-19.
How can I protect myself?
As with any virus, the CDC recommends practicing good hygiene in the same way you would protect yourself against the flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Close contact is considered more than a few minutes within 6 feet of a sick person or direct contact like kissing or sharing utensils.
- Staying away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- If you are concerned about virus transmissions in your area, you can take “social distancing” measures to limit your exposure to the general public.
While a vaccine is in development, at present, known medications are ineffective in preventing or treating COVID-19.
I think I’m at risk and want to get checked. What should I do?
If you are not feeling well, have recently traveled to an area with a COVID-19 outbreak and have been in close contact with a confirmed case, we recommend contacting our 24/7 virtual care team or your local department of public health to discuss self-monitoring with public health supervision.
Where can I go to have my symptoms evaluated in person?
Please avoid coming to a One Medical office or other health care facility unless directed to do so by your care provider or our virtual team. It is important to note that only a limited number of healthcare facilities in the US are currently equipped to diagnose and treat coronavirus. We’re working closely with local departments of public health and can assist in directing our members to the best care facility in their area for coronavirus testing.
I’m at higher risk for viral infection. What should I do to reduce my risk?
Similar to the flu, people over the age of 60, those who are pregnant, or on medications that weaken the immune system (such as chemotherapy or immunomodulators) are at higher risk of infection and complications of infection. If you fall into one of these categories, you may want to consider following some of the more aggressive “social distancing” strategies if there’s any reported risk of COVID-19 transmission in your area.
Will medications like Tamiflu help?
According to the CDC’s guidance, there’s no benefit of using drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or other prescription medication for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. Since this current outbreak overlaps with the typical flu season, it is worth considering medication if you’re having symptoms and it’s more likely being caused by the typical influenza virus. Please reach out to our virtual team through the Treat Me Now feature on our app for further guidance if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms without any known risk for COVID-19.
Other over-the-counter medications for symptom control that we commonly recommend for the flu are described here.
Should I avoid traveling?
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Department of State has issued travel advisories for several countries. If you must travel to an area that has COVID-19, the CDC recommends protecting yourself by doing the following (in addition to the recommendations in the previous section):
- Discuss travel to countries known to have experienced an outbreak with your healthcare provider. Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease.
- Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
As of February 26, 2020, the CDC has issued guidance about travel to the following destinations:
Warning Level 3:
CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the following destinations:
Alert Level 2:
These destinations are experiencing sustained community transmission of respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus can spread from person to person. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.
Watch Level 1:
CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to the following destinations. Travelers should practice usual precautions.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have had contact with the COVID-19 coronavirus, please reach out to our virtual team as soon as possible. For more information and updates on the virus, please refer to the CDC or WHO for updates.
And remember, while COVID-19 has a high transmission rate, it has a low mortality rate. From international data currently available, of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, approximately 80% do not exhibit symptoms that would require hospitalization. There have been no confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States to date.
More info on additional preparation and precautions you can take here.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.