As the world approaches a full year living under the threat of what we now know as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent announcement that vaccines may be available soon, public health entities still stress that social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands are the best defense against the disease.
The first cases of an unknown respiratory ailment originating in Wuhan, China, came to the attention of World Health Organization (WHO) Dec. 31, 2019.
SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, is a coronavirus, named for the crown-like spikes on its surface.
Like its cousins, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from one species to another. In this case it is believed to have originated in bats in China.
The acronym COVID-19? CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease. The number 19 is for the year the outbreak occurred.
As its scientific name SARS-CoV-2 suggests, it is a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus which affects the respiratory tract.
While some sufferers are asymptomatic, others require hospitalization and the use of a ventilator to maintain oxygen levels. It can be lethal.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, viruses are very tiny germs. The coronavirus is about 80 nanometers. At that size, they are smaller than bacteria and millions would fit on the head of a pin.
They are made of genetic material inside of a protein coating. The spikes are also coated with a fatty material called a lipid.
Handwashing with soap helps disrupt the lipid and breaking it down and rendering the virus inactive.
“Viruses are like hijackers. They invade living, normal cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves.
“This can kill, damage, or change the cells and make you sick,” USNLM stated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate the spread of the virus is still believed to be spread through droplets or particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sings, talk or breathes.
Those particles can be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways and lungs and cause infection.
CDC states there is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example in restaurants or in fitness classes).
As the number of COVID-19 cases ratchets up across the nation in a third wave of cases, Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager or CDC’s COVID-19 response said in a Thursday press conference, “There is simply no more important time than now for each and every American to re-double our efforts to watch our distance, wash our hands and most importantly wear a mask.
“More and more scientific data is showing that masks can provide some protection to the wearer. Right now these steps combined are our best defense against the virus that causes COVID-19,” he said.
Walke said the news about a possible vaccine is exciting, “but it’s not here yet.”
“When it does arrive, the mitigation steps will still be equally important in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our fellow citizens,” Walke said.
In the mean time WHO, National Institute of Health, CDC and state and local public health departments emphasize the need to continue the precautions already in place and advise against traveling and large groups during the holidays to slow the spread of the virus and to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by a surge of cases.
In Chaffee County a new campaign to remind people of the protocols for staying healthy and keeping others healthy is the Chaffee’s got HEART campaign:
• Hang at home if sick.
• Excel at handwashing.
• Always wear a mask properly in public.
• Respect social distancing.
• Test if you have symptoms.
Symptoms, Chaffee County Public Health notes, are not the same for everyone and some people will experience some or none.
The most recent set of possible symptoms includes: new loss of taste or smell, fever or chills, muscle/body aches, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing or congestion/runny nose.
CCPH advises anyone with any of those symptoms to take a COVID-19 test or to isolate for 10 days.
As cold and flu season begins, it is important to note those symptoms can be similar to COVID-19 and CCPH advises getting tested just to be on the safe side.
CCPH also advises getting a flu shot this season.