Slowing the spread of COVID-19.
By SAMANTHA WOOD
GREENFIELD – The new coronavirus which leads to the illness known as COVID-19 has been spreading in the community, and significantly among people who don’t know they are carrying it. These asymptomatic carriers may never become ill, or may have symptoms that are so mild, they might not raise any alarm.
This means some people who feel confident they aren’t sick have likely been infecting people with whom they come in contact. This could be true for anyone.
According to public health nurse Lisa White, who works for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and is serving 17 local towns during the COVID-19 crisis, “we should assume anyone we come in contact with may be carrying” the virus.
Even when people do become sick, the incubation may be up to two weeks. “Prevention is really the key,” White said in an interview this week. “Home is the best place to be.”
On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines for reducing the risk of transmission of the virus. The CDC is now advising everyone to wear cloth face masks in areas where there is a chance of being close to people outside of one’s household, such as at the grocery store.
“[T]he virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity – for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing – even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” the agency’s most recent advisory states. “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Up to this time, the general public in the US has not embraced wearing face masks to lower the rates of transmission, and guidance on this has been contradictory.
In some other countries, general use of face masks during pandemics has been required of everyone out in public as part of basic hygiene protocol, and is believed to have played an important role in reducing the infection rate.
In an interview with Science magazine published March 27, 2020, George Gao, director-general of the China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the use of masks. Gao has participated in some of the early research on the new strain of coronavirus and has co-authored recent studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine on the identification of the virus and its transmission.
Gao spoke directly and unequivocally in favor of masks.
“The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role – you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections.”
The Czech Republic attributes some of its success in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 to the widespread use of masks. On March 28, a public service announcement about face masks was shared on YouTube. In less than four minutes, the Czech PSA illustrates how cloth face masks are effective at reducing the spread of infected droplets when worn by everyone, and simplifies this message to: I protect you; you protect me.
Professional-grade masks continue to be in short supply in the United States, and there is dire need for them among healthcare workers, who have the greatest risks of exposure to the virus.
“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus.” the CDC’s new advisory says. “Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
At Home, Just In Case
Testing for COVID-19 also remains difficult to access in the US. Even with testing, results may be delayed by many days and, according to the New York Times, tests may have a 30% false negative rate.
While widespread testing would be of use to track the illness and isolate outbreaks, White said, without it, the very small number of test results in Franklin County shows a tiny window of the actual illness in our area, and may even give people a false sense of security.
“The priority is for treating people with severe illness,” White told the Reporter, “regardless of how they were diagnosed.”
When people become ill with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19, they are being advised to stay home to heal unless their symptoms are severe, such as trouble breathing. White recommends that sick people consult with a healthcare provider or public nurse. The state Department of Public Health has posted detailed advice on how to assess symptoms, when to seek more care, and how to reduce exposure for other members of the household.
But the most important thing, White said, is that “home is the best place to be.” She emphasized social distance guidelines and the importance of not spreading the virus through contact with other people.
Along with concerns about exposure to COVID-19, the grim news and changes to work, school, and other routines affect everyone and leave many people feeling more anxious. White advised people to use video calls and other forms of communication to stay in touch with friends and loved ones.
“To practice simple things that bring peace and enjoyment,” White said, “is as important as ever.”