Keep Your Family Safe and Sane From the Coronavirus

A New York City pediatrician shares how learning from past viruses can help us with the coronavirus today.

coronavirus,3d render
coronavirus,3d render

As a doctor, my job is finding the root of a problem — scientifically — and helping my patients find the best plan for their health. Now, we are experiencing another potential pandemic that is scaring people to the point of extreme anxiety and stress. The media has a way of causing sensationalism, but understanding the facts is one of the key ways you can safeguard yourself and your family. 

Looking back at the history of viruses, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), Zika, the West Nile virus, Ebola, and even the avian and swine flu hit populations hard, causing a great number of illnesses and even deaths — but they did not erase mankind. This article is not meant to belittle these germs and disrespect the lives lost, but shed some light and relieve some of the stress and panic in people. There will be a new virus in the years coming, COVID-19 will not go away fast, and unfortunately as we evolve, so will these germs. 

Unfortunately, viruses spread and they’re hard to contain. We all have to do our part and keep up with good hygiene in washing our hands. Also, if you’re feeling under the weather, have fever, have a productive cough, call your doctor and make an appointment to see them. Don’t go to work, don’t go to your best friends birthday party and don’t send your child to school and get other kids sick. Coronavirus is not the most common virus currently in the U.S., but all viruses have similar symptoms. The flu is going around now and is as dangerous as any of these exotic viruses. 

Here are the facts and what you can do to help keep yourself and those around you healthy. 

What is coronavirus and what is COVID-19? 

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections ranging from a common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS and MERS. COVD-19 is a novel (new) strain of coronavirus that has never been identified before in humans. It has first been identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province in China.

How do coronaviruses such as COVID-19 spread?

Coronaviruses spread from person to person in close contact, approximately six feet, through respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. It is most contagious when a person is actively sick and symptomatic, although in rare cases it can spread before an infected person shows any signs, although the viral load is quite low and the contact will have to be very intimate. It can also sometimes spread from touching a surface that an infected person has sneezed or coughed on and then touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.

What are the symptoms of coronaviruses and COVID-19?

Approximately 50% of respiratory tract infections are asymptomatic and have low chance to spread. About 10-15% will cause a common cold with symptoms of runny nose, cough, sore throat and headache. G.I. symptoms are rare. Incubation, the time from the moment of exposure until signs and symptoms of the disease appear, of COVID-19 is not well documented but anywhere between two to 14 days.

Is there a treatment for COVID-19?

Currently, there are no vaccines or antiviral medications for COVID-19. The treatment is supportive — drinking lots of fluids and managing secondary infections and complications.

How can I protect and prevent myself from contracting COVID-19?

As per the C.D.C., the best way to protect and prevent the disease is to avoid being exposed to someone that potentially has the virus and be counseled on infection control, no different from any other virus. Washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow. Also disinfect surfaces regularly. Staying at home if you’re sick and avoid others who are sick. The general public does not need to wear masks. For the people that traveled to endemic areas such as China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan, they should stay home for 14 days in order not to spread any illness in case they are incubating the disease and only seek help if having respiratory symptoms. These people should take their temperatures twice a day and watch for symptoms of cough or shortness of breath. These people should not take public transportation and avoid public places like the mall or movie theaters.

Can I fly with my family during this outbreak and how risky is it?

This is the most common question I am encountering in my practice. Parents are tired of the long winter and need a physical and mental break from their stressful life. The best steps you can take for your family is to practice good infectious controls when going through an airport, look at the C.D.C. website to avoid traveling in high-risk areas during this outbreak, and be up to date with vaccines including the flu shot before travel and to check with employers for any travel bans or restrictions upon returning back to work from any travel. Everyone has to do their part from spreading the disease in their community. Otherwise traveling is still possible.

How can I protect my school-age children from COVID-19, and is my child at risk?

Children, fortunately, are not part of the risk group unless of course there are underlying chronic health issues. Although there’s not much information on non-hospitalized patients from reports from China, our current information comes from SARS and MERS in children which showed that it did not affect the younger population greatly.

Are schools involved in protecting and preventing the spread of COVID-19?

Parents are worried about their children in school in which the C.D.C. has made few common sense recommendations. First of all, the schools are not in charge of screening for COVID-19, but they are responsible for helping from the spread of it in schools. The school should screen absenteeism patterns in students and staff and encourage them to stay home if they are not feeling well. Schools are formulating procedures for students and staff when they’re sick and are establishing procedures to send these individuals home as soon as possible with the least contact with the well school community.

Outbreaks of novel viruses are always a public health concern and this year’s outbreak does not differ from any other previously seen. Media keeps us informed but also can be part of the reason for heightened mass hysteria. Every minute someone is talking about COVID-19 and we can’t help keep hoping it will not reach our cities and towns. But it will, it is inevitable and for that there’s no reason to panic. What we need to do is stay calm and protect our families and our communities by not panicking, by staying civil and protecting ourselves with good hygiene. Lastly, stay informed from reputable sources such as cdc.gov website to help keep you up to date. 

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