What You Need to Know About COVID-19

COVID-19, also called the coronavirus, is spreading worldwide and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pandemic. Here is a map of reported cases, deaths and reported recoveries around the world.

In the United States, different parts of the country are seeing different levels of COVID-19 activity.

For most people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the coronavirus is considered low, but as the outbreak expands, the risk will increase, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cases of coronavirus and instances of community spread are reported in a growing number of states.

This is a health situation that continues to evolve. CDC notes the following:

  • People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with the level of risk dependent on the location.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on location.

Coronaviruses are a group of respiratory viruses that cause illness from the common cold to more severe disease. “Most of us have been infected with a coronavirus at some point in our lives,” reports New York City board-certified allergist and immunologist Purvi Parikh, MD. “The thing about the COVID-19 strain is it’s a mutated version of the virus.”

People with asthma, COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases are at greater risk for complications – such as pneumonia or bronchitis – if they are diagnosed with this novel strain of coronavirus. Given that 24 million people in the United States have asthma, and 10 people die from the disease daily, prevention for those with this chronic disease is vital.

What are symptoms to watch out for?

Symptoms vary in severity. Many cases are mild, but some are life-threatening – usually in people who have some type of compromised immunity.

Primary symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Some people infected with the virus may not show symptoms for as long as 14 days after exposure.

Who is at greatest risk for severe complications?

Some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. These groups includes:

  • Older adults, with risk increasing by age.
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions such as:
    • Lung diseases including asthma and COPD
    • Diabetes
    • Heart disease

What are recommendations for people with asthma?

CDC says, “We don’t know if you are at higher risk of getting infected with COVID-19, but if you do get infected you may be at higher risk of getting very sick. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.”

Follow your Asthma Action Plan.

  • Know how to use your inhaler.
  • Avoid your asthma triggers.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks daily to protect yourself against COVID-19. Avoid disinfectants that can cause an asthma attack.
  • Take your asthma medication exactly as prescribed. Talk to your healthcare provider, insurer and/or pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of prescription medications such as asthma inhalers — but there is no need to hoard medications. Make sure that you have 30 days of non-prescription medications and supplies on hand in case you need to stay home for a long time.
  • As more cases of COVID-19 are discovered and our communities take action to combat the spread of disease, it is natural for some people to feel concerned or stressed. Strong emotions can trigger an asthma attack. Take steps to help yourself cope with stress and anxiety.

How is COVID-19 spread?

The coronavirus can be spread from person to person. Similar to colds and viruses, it spreads via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The coronavirus can also be spread by touching a contaminated surface or object – a cellphone or computer keyboard and mouse, for example – and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

What prevention strategies are recommended by CDC?

Preventive measures are the same as what’s recommended to avoid the flu or the common cold:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people (at least 6 feet) if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not immediately available.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
  • Avoid sharing anything – including cups, water bottles and eating utensils.
  • Disinfect all frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

CDC is recommending that, if there is minimal or moderate spread of COVID-19 in your community, you should cancel events for groups of 10+ people or hold them virtually in order to slow the spread of the virus. If there is substantial spread of COVID-19 in the community, the event should be canceled.

If you have asthma, COPD or another chronic respiratory disease, be sure to continue to follow your treatment plan.

What do I do if I’m feeling sick?

If you suspect you may have the coronavirus, please stay home and minimize contact with other people. CDC says you should call your doctor and discuss your symptoms and potential exposure. Your doctor will decide whether you need to be tested. Some people who are mildly ill may need to just self-isolate at home until the virus runs its course.

Other important measures if you are sick:

  • Wear a facemask when around other people if instructed to do so by your doctor.
  • Separate yourself as much as possible from other people in your home
  • Cover your cough and sneezes, or cough into your elbow
  • Wash your hands often
  • Don’t share objects

Keep in mind there is no treatment for the coronavirus and there is currently no vaccine.

What about face masks?

According to CDC, face masks should be used by people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms so they can avoid spreading the disease to others; and also by healthcare workers in close contact with someone infected by the coronavirus.

CDC does not recommend that people who are feeling well wear a face mask to protect themselves from any respiratory disease, including the coronavirus, unless they are caring for someone who is sick and not able to wear a face mask.

Please note that face masks may be in short supply at this time and they should be saved for caregivers.

Is there anything I can do to boost my immune system?

It’s best to live a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and exercise, no matter if there is a pandemic or not, says Purvi Parikh, MD.

“No supplements have been linked to immune boosting, but you can take vitamin D if you are low or deficient — low levels of vitamin D can affect your immune system,” Dr. Parikh says. “Most important actions are social distancing, washing your hands and not touching your face. If you are sick, please stay home!”