Column: COVID-19 in the Q-C is going to get worse

Column: COVID-19 in the Q-C is going to get worse

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Dr. Louis Katz

The Quad Cities COVID-19 Coalition brings together public health, healthcare, emergency management and planning, business and government leaders from both sides of the river to assess the outbreak, and recommend responses to the local effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

As I draft this piece, there have been no confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection or the illness it causes, COVID-19, in the metro area.

That will not last and we may identify cases by the time you read this. While we certainly want to reassure the community that preparations are in progress, we particularly want to enlist the community’s participation in efforts to contain and mitigate spread of the virus.

Our lives will be disrupted for the foreseeable, indefinite future — one cost of an effective response. Without your aggressive cooperation the pandemic response will fail.

Much has been learned about this virus since it emerged late in 2019. That said, much is unknown, and a lot of research is needed to get the information we need to help you protect yourself, loved ones and neighbors.

What we ask of you will change over time. What we tell you today is based on the science that is available now where possible. Where that evidence is not available, it comes from the best opinions of experts who have dealt with epidemic infections in the past. The evidence and the opinions will evolve, sometimes overnight. Be prepared to adapt.

Our goals:

• slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community allowing an effective response to be built;

• reduce the peak of the epidemic to prevent overwhelming the health care system;

• provide clear information about what you should be doing, why and how.

What we should be doing (especially if you are older or have chronic illnesses):

• Because of delays in the availability of testing, we assume that the virus is already here. Do not attend social gatherings or events if you cannot maintain a 6-foot space between you and others. Businesses, organizations and families should cancel or postpone social gatherings/community events of 250 people or more now. This is to prevent transmission from person-to-person, it applies to all of us and all kinds of gatherings. The size of permissible events will drop steeply as cases are identified and local transmission is established in the metro area.

• If you develop COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), you must call ahead to your medical provider or walk-in clinic. You must not go to an office, clinic or walk-in without giving them the chance to protect their staff and other patients if you are infected.

• Avoid non-essential travel. If you must travel locally, regionally or beyond, know if the virus is spreading at your destination. This will reduce your risk of becoming infected and allow you to defer travel if your destination is experiencing sustained person-to-person transmission. State and local health departments at your destination will know and their web sites will contain the information.

• The need for primary and secondary school closures is being assessed. We completely understand the impacts of these closings — the need for childcare, disruptions of programs like school lunch and many other things. Fortunately, we are entering spring break and have time to think about this in consultation with key stakeholders.

• Stay home if you are sick. Contact your provider by phone or online for advice. Protect the people you live with using the commonsense steps below.

Take these measures to protect yourself and others. Most are common sense and, maybe more important, good manners.

• Clean your hands often. Soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds are best. This is important especially after you touch surfaces like doorknobs and railings that might be contaminated by the coughs and sneezes of others. This removes and kills the virus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers work but are second best to soap and water.

• Keep your unwashed hands away from your face and eyes where the virus gets in.

• Avoid close contact with other people, especially if they have signs of a cold or flu. If you don’t come into contact with the virus, you won't get sick. Best evidence tells us that about 6 feet of separation will be effective.

• Again, stay home if you’re sick — don’t risk giving the virus to others.

• Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably using your elbow or disposable tissues, not your hands.

• Clean surfaces that may be contaminated using standard household disinfectants. They work.

• Make sure you have the medical supplies you need for self-care.

• Don’t panic — it doesn’t help. If we work together we will weather this.

Access reliable information from public health experts, especially your state and local health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the web at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html.

Avoid spreading misinformation from unreliable sources in broadcast and social media and the internet.

The coalition will meet regularly and issue recommendations to the public as evidence-based information becomes available.

Louis M. Katz, M.D., is medical director of the Scott County Health Department.

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