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I'm a Doctor and Here's How to Never Catch COVID-19 Outside

In order to to beat it each of us needs to make an effort.
Social Distancing Woman in city street wearing surgical mask against disease virus SARS-CoV-2.

I'm a doctor, and if you think this is just another post about social distancing and how to wash your hands—vitally important as they are—you are wrong. Read on and see …

How Can We Stop Coronavirus?

I'm sure I speak for us all when I say we want this to be over. 

America is faring terribly in the pandemic. The number of new cases reported every day continues to climb, as outbreaks tear through Florida, Arizona, Texas and California, among others. In the past few days, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 60,000 new cases have been diagnosed per day. There have been 3.22 million cases all told in the U.S. and 136,000 deaths. It's clear the virus is far from being under control.

We've all witnessed the devastation it has caused. For those who become infected, there is suffering, and sometimes death, but for the population as a whole, the social and economic effects have led to loneliness, isolation, job losses, financial ruin, and taken their toll on family life and relationships. Our lives have been changed in a way we could never have imagined.

Now, we must face the truth. This virus is not going to disappear. If we are going to beat it, each and every one of us needs to make a huge, concerted effort. 

We desperately need a vaccine, but vaccine trials take time, the virus is clever, and although we all fervently hope it will happen, we must be realistic. We may never have a vaccine.

We need an effective form of treatment, but the same applies. Thousands of clinical trials for possible COVID treatments are underway, mostly researching the effects of antiviral agents and immunomodulators. However, these take time, and although there have been some advances, there are still no magical drugs on the horizon.

What About Herd Immunity? 

The most recent statistical modelling suggests for herd immunity from COVID, 43% of the population must be immune—a welcome revision from the previous figure of 60%.  If that can be achieved, that would be amazing. However, the situation is compounded by the fact that most research seems to suggest after a COVID-19 infection, the antibody response can be weak, and often it is not long-lasting. There is no guarantee having had the infection will necessarily protect you in the future. 

Herd immunity relies on a significant number of the population carrying enough antibodies to remain immune. We do not know just when this will happen with COVID-19. Or indeed, how long any of this will take. We may be waiting for a very long time.

Where Does This Leave Us?

So, this leaves us back to basics.  It's time to become a germaphobe! It does mean:

  • Frequent, vigorous, handwashing 
  • Strict social distancing  (the CDC still recommends a six feet distance) 
  • Avoiding crowds
  • Wearing your mask

These activities are mandatory to stop this tiny virus. 

After all, 100 million viruses can fit onto a pin-head!  WHO has produced recommendations on how to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. Right now, it's also time to look after your own physical and mental health, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, and be the best parent you can be.

What Happens if We Don't Adhere to the COVID Infection Control Recommendations?

If this is the case, the virus will continue to spread.  Statistics predict that over 30 days, one COVID-19 infected person can potentially infect 403 people. It's a shockingly high figure.

Can We Learn Lessons From Other Countries?

If we look at countries who have fared better, what advice can we take? In Switzerland, a strict and early lockdown meant cases were quickly contained. However, since lockdown eased, they have a small second spike of cases. Their approach was to make testing easily obtainable early on and to use a test and trace app. They also imposed the use of face masks as mandatory on public transport.

So Here's How We Stop Coronavirus

Wear Those Masks

Wearing a mask is something practical you can do to help protect yourself from becoming infected, but also to stop yourself passing the virus on to someone else. 45/50 states have produced rules about wearing masks, but only 18 of these with any degree of authority. Five states have no rules about wearing masks at all.

Remember that 80% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms. And that people with asymptomatic infection are as infectious as those with symptoms.

There are good medical reasons for wearing a mask.  

  • They have been shown to reduce the transmission of other types of coronavirus.
  • One 2020 meta-analysis, including 6 randomized controlled trials, concluded that mask-wearing was as effective as the use of N95 respirator masks at preventing transmission of the influenza virus in healthcare workers. 
  • Some authorities describe the wearing of cloth masks in public as potentially "lifesaving."

Only on July 8th, WHO has formally recognized that more COVID than was previously thought, can be spread via aerosols, tiny particles floating in the air. Up until now, they believed that most of the virus was spread by respiratory droplets, exhaled when breathing out, coughing or sneezing, which quickly fall out of the air to the ground. 

More evidence is being examined to see how this changes the recommendations, for both medical staff and the public.

Use Test and Trace Apps

Contact tracing apps are still thought to have a large potential to help control COVID-19. However, there have been problems getting the use of these established largely due to concerns about privacy. 

An Oxford university publication in the journal Science (May 2020), concluded that for the contact tracing app to be effective, at least 60% of the population sign up. This may prove difficult. So far, in countries where the app has been introduced, such as Iceland, only 38% of the population signed up.  To date, the contribution of the app to the control spread of the virus has not been as effective as hoped.

However, Apple and Google are continuing to support app development, and three states, Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina, have declared their intention to use them, as well as some European countries.

Once we get enough reassurance and can trust the technology, we can all join in, sign up to the app, and do our bit to help control the pandemic.

Get People to Follow the Rules

I can't help notice the person who rushes past me into the supermarket, no mask, doesn't stop to use the gel dispenser, barges around the shop without any hesitation reaching across other customers to grab their produce, and being far too close, not following the yellow lines, picking up products and putting them back on the shelves, leaning in and breathing far too close to the cashiers. 

Is it one rule for the whole world, but a seemingly different rule for this other person?

There are various reasons some people don't comply with the rules. 

  • Being in denial

Being in denial is common these days, about many things. For example, in England, 64% of adults are now overweight or obese. Despite this, participants in medical studies commonly fail to correctly identify themselves as overweight. Many, classified as obese, believe they are "about right."  How can this be?

Psychologists believe that sometimes we cannot recognize the bad things under our noses if there are other major difficulties in our lives. If you were already in an unhappy relationship or going through a breakdown, living in poverty, or perhaps have other serious medical or social problems, the COVID pandemic may just be overwhelming—the last straw.

  • "This will never happen to me" 

Many people live life with an inherent feeling "this will never happen to me." Are they optimists, or just very unrealistic?

  • Fear

Fear can also act in two ways—stepping up and doing what's required, or mass panic. One way of calming fear is ensuring we all receive accurate information. There has been a lot of inaccurate reporting in the media, for example, conspiracy theories about the cause of the pandemic, and erroneous claims about treatment. You can check any rumors you may have heard at FEMA coronavirus rumor control.

People who can't engage with the pandemic rules will need help for the other underlying stresses they are experiencing. Once there is some resolution, they can then start to accept the details of the current pandemic, and the part they have to play. 

So, if you know someone who is not complying, they may not need harsh words—and compassion and kindness will go a long way.

Take Individual Responsibility

We all need to take responsibility for our own health. If someone is not complying with the pandemic rules, why are they not able to do this?

Sometimes people feel helpless, they feel the problem is so immense they are bowled over by it. They react by blaming others around them and getting angry.

We can all take control of their own lives. Instead of expecting everyone else to get rid of the virus for them, each one of us needs to can get involved and take steps to protect ourselves and those we love.

If you come across someone not engaging with the current pandemic regulations, what can you do? One suggestion, is to give them the right tools? Give them some hand sanitizer and some masks. Help them to find the relevant information about infection control online, or elsewhere. Praise them when you see them using them. People need to feel taking these actions are useful  – which they undoubtedly are. Each, and every one of us, by our own actions, is contributing to the success or demise of this virus.

Change Your Health Behavior

Do you know one of the hardest things doctors are required to do in their working lives?  No, it's not diagnosing cancer or giving someone CPR—it's trying to change people's health behavior.

People have deep-seated health beliefs, which sometimes even they themselves don't realize. And these can be impossible to shift.  Even if you explain the grass-roots cause, the persuasive medical research, the shocking facts and figures, some people can often remain belligerently on the wrong track. 

People do have a right to make their own decisions about their health, and ultimately sometimes, you have to accept the decision they have made, even if it's not what you as a doctor believe is right for them.  

A good example is smoking. We all know how dangerous smoking is for health, but many committed smokers, despite knowing the facts,  would rather just carry on. And sad as I am for them, as there is so much help out there, these days and now has never been a better time to quit! –  I have to accept their decision. Remember, smoking increases your risk of severe COVID infection.

But when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, if you choose not to engage with the infection control rules, all carefully formulated with good scientific evidence, this has the potential to harm so many people apart from yourself. The virus tends to hit the oldest, weakest, and poorest the hardest. There is so much to be gained from engaging with the process, feeling proud of making a difference, and providing a good role model.

Experts suggest when people have a health issue and they need to make changes to manage it, they go through various stages—contemplation (considering the facts), preparation (thinking ahead and equipping themselves for change), taking action (getting started),  and then maintenance (the new health behavior has now become a habit).  

The key question they need to ask themselves, is what is likely to happen by not adhering to the COVID infection control guidance? None of us wants to see this outcome. 

Avoid Crowds

Period.

Health Inequalities Must Be Addressed

Spare a thought for those who live in poverty, in over-crowded homes or who are homeless. They may have little choice over social distancing and have limited access to resources, including running water, meaning it's even impossible to wash their hands.

A disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority groups find themselves in this position. And we know these groups have poorer outcomes if they become infected. This virus has brought the problems of social inequality right to the very fore.

Final Thoughts From the Doctor

We need to pull together as a community, and a nation. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to friends, family and indeed the rest of the county to do all we can to stop the spread of this virus. We need to help each other. 

It's time to consider the pandemic rationally and make sure we are all doing our bit.  

Consideration for others, forethought, planning, and adherence to the recommendations are all crucial. What can you do to help yourself, your family and your community?

Please think about the points I've raised in this post. In fact, it's time to pop off and wash my hands … again! As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

Deborah Lee, MD
Dr. Deborah Lee is a health and medical writer with an emphasis on women's health. Read more
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