Written by John Ferrari
If you’ve read a newspaper, turned on your TV, listened to the radio,
gone on the Internet, or even just chatted with friends, family or coworkers
over the past few months, you’ve heard a lot about the novel coronavirus.
There’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of it seems to
change from day to day. What do we know about the coronavirus, and what’s
important to know?
There are trusted sources of information you can turn to, including public
health agencies such as the United States Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department,
and medical centers, including Torrance Memorial. We’re learning
more about the coronavirus every day, as medical researchers work to develop
prevention and treatments.
Here’s a primer on the coronavirus – information you can trust
to help keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.
What’s in a Name?
You’ve seen it called the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19…
what does it all mean? These terms are often used interchangeably to refer
to both the virus and the disease it causes, but they are different. Novel
coronavirus is just a descriptive phrase: the virus is new, or novel,
and it belongs to a class of viruses called coronaviruses, so named because,
viewed under powerful microscopes, they have spiky projections on their
surface, like the points on a crown (corona, in Latin). There are hundreds
of types of coronavirus, but less than a dozen are known to affect humans.
SARS-CoV-2 is the name for the novel coronavirus. CoV stands for coronavirus,
and SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. (SARS and MERS,
Middle East respiratory syndrome, are also the names of two other, different
diseases caused by coronaviruses.) The disease we’re fighting now,
caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is called COVID-19, for coronavirus disease 2019.
How Does it Spread?
The coronavirus spreads from person to person when someone infected with
it disperses the virus. Coughing, sneezing or exhaling spreads small droplets
containing the virus. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around
the person, and other people then pick up the virus by touching these
objects or surfaces, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. The
virus can survive on surfaces and objects for anywhere from a few hours
up to a few days, depending on the material and conditions including temperature
and humidity. People also can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in the droplets.
That’s why “social distancing” is so important. Without
individuals passing the virus to other people, the coronavirus would die out.
Because many individuals with COVID-19 exhibit mild symptoms, or no symptoms
at all, people can’t always tell when they need to quarantine themselves
in order to avoid spreading the virus to others. Staying at least 6 feet
away from people reduces the risk of catching the virus from someone else
– or spreading it to someone else – but it doesn’t eliminate
the risk entirely. Close personal contact, such as caring for someone
with COVID-19, also can spread the virus.
What are the Symptoms?
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and its symptoms typically include coughing,
fatigue, fever and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Symptoms
typically appear 2 to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus and
becomes infected. It’s not a head cold or flu, but some patients
may experience nasal congestion or a runny nose, a sore throat or diarrhea.
Who is at Risk?
The coronavirus can infect anyone, and anyone can become ill – even
severely ill – with the disease it causes, COVID-19. However, some
people are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms and requiring
medical treatment: older adults (especially those 65 or older) and people
who have underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, asthma, obesity,
kidney or liver disease, or heart or lung disease. People with compromised
immune systems also are at higher risk, including patients undergoing
cancer treatment or taking immune-weakening medications such as corticosteroids,
smokers, people with HIV/AIDS, and anyone who recently has had a marrow
or organ transplantation.
How Bad is it?
Many people infected with the novel coronavirus experience only mild symptoms,
and others are asymptomatic; that is, they exhibit no symptoms at all.
In Torrance Memorial’s tracking of COVID-19 cases in the South Bay,
approximately 80 percent of people experience mild symptoms and can manage
care at home. However, around 1 in 6 people with COVD-19 experience more
severe. With the data we have now, it appears the COVID-19 fatality rate
overall is approximately 1 percent. This is far less than the fatality
rates for SARS (approximately 11 percent) or MERS (approximately 35 percent)
but higher than the fatality rate for the seasonal flu (about 0.1 percent).
When Should I Seek Medical Attention?
You should get medical attention immediately if you have trouble breathing,
persistent pain or pressure in your chest, or bluish lips or face. “If
you’re sick, call your primary care physician,” recommends
Torrance Memorial infectious disease specialist Dr. Eric Milefchik. “There
are new options for remote or telemedicine available through many local
physician offices and urgent care.”
People experiencing mild symptoms are encouraged to contact their primary
care physician or local urgent care. Torrance Memorial Physician Network
offices and many other community physicians are offering telemedicine
services. Same day telemedicine appointments are available. Please call
310-891-6717 to schedule a virtual appointment.
What Can I Do?
First, and most importantly, follow the directions and recommendations
of public health officials and your health care providers. Right now,
that means avoiding all non-essential travel; remember, if the virus can’t
jump from one person to the next, it will eventually die out. If you must
go out – for example, to buy groceries – stay at least 6 feet
away from other people. Wash your hands with soap and water often and
thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, especially after going out, handling
packages or coming into contact with objects or surfaces that may have
been exposed to the virus. If you can’t wash your hands at a sink,
use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. To infect
you, the virus must enter via a mucus membrane, so avoid touching your
face – your eyes, mouth or nose. You may have the virus on your
hands (where it can’t infect you), but if you transfer the virus
to your face, you increase the risk of infection.
Because you may not know if you have caught the virus – it takes
a while to develop symptoms, and you may experience mild or no symptoms
– it is recommended that you wear a face mask if you go out, to
avoid spreading the virus to others. If you don’t have a face mask
handy, a cloth face covering such as a bandanna will work.
What is Torrance Memorial Doing?
“Torrance Memorial has admitted and is treating many patients who
have tested positive for COVID-19,” says Dr. Milefchik. “The
patients are in isolation and all safety protocols set forth by Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention have been followed to reduce the spread
Torrance Memorial also has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment
(PPE) on hand, said CEO Craig Leach. “Although there’s a nationwide
discussion about the availability of N95 masks, Torrance Memorial is currently
adequately stocked,” he said recently. “Torrance Memorial
has adequate supply of PPEs, masks and gowns and we continue to source
new channels to secure additional supplies. We are grateful to for the
support and supplies already received from local businesses and the county.”
If you are interested in making a donation, please visit www.torrancememorialfoundation.org/donate
to learn more about what is needed and how to make cash or in-kind donations.
“We anticipate the number of patients may increase in the coming
weeks and have prepared for an impending surge. In planning for this public
health crisis, our emergency management team, which includes physicians,
nurses, infectious disease specialists, emergency room staff and administrators,
developed hospital-wide plans to support us through this rapidly changing
situation,” said Leach.
“We have already implemented two ancillary surge triage areas –
a tent was erected adjacent to its emergency department and an additional
area in the valet parking lot as a precautionary measure,” he added.
“We have enough bed/ICU capacity but can flex with an increase in
patient volume. Due to the size of our facility, we can significantly
increase bed capacity."