“Just the facts ma’am.“

If you understand that reference, you are likely at more risk from the new strain of coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Most who get this new strain of virus will be fine. Some who are younger may only get the symptoms of a head cold for a few days.

The older a person, especially if over 65-years-old, the more likely they will develop a severe illness related to this virus. For those who have chronic heart or lung conditions or those with a suppressed immune systems, there is more potential risk as well.

Most important, especially for those in one or all of these groups, is to try and avoid exposure. The more people you’re around, especially with close physical contact, the more likely you will interact with someone who has the COVID-19 virus whether they know it or not.

Someone may not be aware they carry COVID-19 because there can be a fairly long incubation period for the virus. The incubation period is the duration of time from having the virus in the body to exhibiting symptoms. For this coronavirus strain, this period can be up to 14 days. That is the reason that many with potential exposure are being quarantined for a minimum of 14 days.

It is also important of course to wash your hands regularly and to avoid contact with your face.  If you’re exposed to the virus and wash it or don’t give the virus a route of entry via the eyes and nose, you can significantly reduce your risk of getting sick.

If you start to exhibit signs of an infection—sore throat, fever, sweats, chills, cough, fatigue, etc.—stay home and call your doctor’s office. Your doctor’s office will likely ask a series of questions to determine the likelihood you might have COVID-19. Your doctor’s office, based on the current protocol, will then decide whether to contact the public health department.

Generally speaking, if you get sick with an infection, it’s better to stay home and isolate yourself. This is even more important when it comes to this new outbreak. Don’t go to work. Don’t walk in to your doctor’s office demanding to be seen. Don’t go out in public unless it’s absolutely necessary.

The majority of people that will get ill in our community won’t have COVID-19, but there are limited test kits available so we won’t likely know one way or the other. You have to assume it’s possible, however, even if you haven’t travelled to areas with a high incidence like China, Korea and Italy.

If someone from your primary care doctor’s office and/or a public health official deems you sick enough to be hospitalized, you will probably be sent to an area for evaluation that is separate from the hospital or the emergency department. Or if you end up in a traditional facility, you may be contacted in advance so the staff can prepare for your arrival. The goal would be to minimize potential spread. The emergency services representative might meet the you in the parking lot to give you a mask.

For now, with limited test kits available, it is only the sickest and most vulnerable individuals who will be tested.

The response of the healthcare system and the public health departments has been impressive to this point. We had three meetings just last week to review the most up-to-date information.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories around and misinformation. Better to talk with your regular doctor or nurse practitioner or go to the CDC website for information than do a random search on the Internet.

Andrew Lenhardt, MD

p.s. “Just the facts ma’am,” was a common refrain of the character Sargent Joe Friday on the TV show Dragnet that ran from 1967 to 1970.