Separating fact from fiction about COVID-19 (”1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

NHC Public Health officials on coronavirus

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - With many rumors spreading regarding the coronavirus in the United States, we asked two public health officials to sit down for an extended interview to answer questions about COVID-19.

Lisa Brown, the New Hanover County Public Health Preparedness Coordinator, and Carla Turner, the county’s Public Health Personal Health Services Manager, provided answers to the questions many of our viewers and Facebook friends have asked. Here are a few of the most frequently asked:

Can you compare this coronavirus to something most people are familiar with, the flu virus?

Lisa Brown: “It’s a coronavirus, and there are many coronaviruses. There are currently seven known to make people sick. This is the most newly-discovered coronavirus, which is why you might have heard people refer to it as a ‘novel’ virus. That means ‘new.’ Globally what we’ve seen, generally about 80 percent of the cases seem to generally be mild. You might have symptoms that sort of mimic the flu in some ways, fever, cough, respiratory symptoms. In the level of how it spreads, and how easily it spreads, I think a comparison to the flu virus would be applicable.”

“An important distinction, and part of the reason why public health has paid so much attention to this for months now, is that unlike with the flu, we don’t have a vaccine, and we don’t have any proven therapeutic treatments. We don’t have any herd immunity. This is new to humans. That is the concern that we don’t have those tools in the toolbox to that we do have with flu to help slow the spread and help protect the more vulnerable populations.”

Carla Turner: “The concept of herd immunity is, maybe there is something there is a vaccine for. You have an issue, and for medical reasons YOU can’t get a vaccine. Lisa and I will get the vaccine, that way we’re protected and we’re not putting you at risk. We need a community protected, so they can take care of those who don’t have community.”

How close can you be, or do you have to be, to pick up COVID-19?

Carla: “What the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is saying, you have to be within six feet for ten minutes.”

Lisa: “That’s what they are defining as ‘close contact’. That’s what they’re pointing to to say you’d be vulnerable. Keep in mind, for something like measles for example, where it can be in the room for hours after somebody has left, that is NOT what we’re talking about here.”

Can you pick up COVID-19 by shaking someone’s hand?

Carla: “Yes. If I’ve just coughed in my hand, or sneezed in my hand, and I have not washed my hand appropriately and we shake hands, and then you rub your eye, you have potentially just exposed yourself to whatever I have going on. (It’s the same with the flu virus).”

The symptoms for COVID-19 are a lot like influenza symptoms. How quickly do they come on?

Lisa: “I would be hesitant to say that we know across the board what that’s going to look like for everybody. I would caution folks, though, that if you’re concerned, call your healthcare provider. The last thing we want, if we would have COVID-19 in our community, is that folks who were afraid they had it go sit in a crowded healthcare office lobby, or urgent care.."

Carla: “..or emergency department, and exposing everybody else to it.”

Lisa: "..or potentially exposing healthcare providers if they hadn’t communicated what their concerns were in advance. If we have it in the community it’s going to be very important that we keep as many healthcare providers well and healthy as possible, because we are going to need them.”

If someone does have the symptoms, who decides who will get tested for COVID-19?

Carla: “The state department of public health put out guidance yesterday (Tuesday) evening for providers in the community. It talks about who is eligible for testing. There are two different criteria you could possibly meet. The first would be that you have fever or signs and symptoms, meaning cough, lower respiratory illness, shortness of breath, and you also have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, with someone who has had a positive test. The other criteria that you could meet, you have fever AND signs and symptoms of lower respiratory (illness), and you have an unknown exposure. The caveat to that is, you also have to have a negative flu test. You have to do a rapid flu (test) to show the flu is not what you have, before we would send it to the state lab for testing (for COVID-19).”

Lisa: “There’s been a lot of confusion and information that’s been out there about getting tested and who should get tested. If you don’t have any symptoms, if you’re not ill, you should not be tested. That would not under any criteria need testing.”

Carla: “We have to be careful about that because in public health across the state, there are a limited amounts of collection kits. There are specific things that need to be in the collection kits. We can order collection kits from the state lab but they are also very overwhelmed with the amount of stuff coming in, so we don’t just want to test anybody. We want to test people who need to be tested.”

You can hear my entire interview with Lisa Brown and Carla Turner of New Hanover County’s Public Health Department by downloading the free “1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast.

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