After San Antonio and federal officials confirmed that a coronavirus patient believed to be clear of the virus was in the community for 12 hours and returned to isolation following a “weakly” positive test result for COVID-19, you may be wondering how to best protect yourself.
Though San Antonio officials said the exposure risk remains low, it was revealed on Monday that the patient checked into a local hotel near the San Antonio International Airport and visited North Star Mall over a 12-hour period on Saturday.
As of Monday, there are a total of 86 coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to a real-time map of coronavirus cases by Johns Hopkins University. About 90,000 cases have been reported in more than two dozen countries, with around 3,000 deaths, the map shows.
In San Antonio, 11 cases have been reported so far, though all of them included people who had contracted the virus overseas and were quarantined by federal officials here. Those include nine quarantined evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, one from the initial group of quarantined evacuees from Wuhan and one that was transferred here from the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The number of cases is still very low in the U.S. and most people who get sick with the virus recover. Still, fears of the new coronavirus spreading worldwide have caused stock market shockwaves and a massive response by health officials, who are informing the public on steps they can take to fight back against the outbreak.
Here’s what you need to know to help keep yourself and others safe:
Symptoms of the coronavirus
With COVID-19, there are several symptoms that could indicate a person who has been exposed is coming down with the virus. They generally appear between two and 14 days after exposure, the CDC states.
According to the CDC, these symptoms include:
- Mild to severe respiratory illness
- Shortness of breath
The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu. Most strains of coronavirus — like a common cold or flu — are not fatal, but this is the first time officials have seen this particular strain of it, named COVID-19.
While the virus typically isn’t deadly, there is currently no vaccine or medication that specifically treats or cures COVID-19.
More extreme cases of the virus, similar to pneumonia, could be fatal.
Just because a person experiences these symptoms doesn’t mean they have contracted COVID-19.
If you have symptoms and reason to believe you could have been exposed, you should contact the Metropolitan Health District and your doctor while taking the steps below.
How to prevent the spread of germs
- Cover your coughs and sneezes and keep your hands clean
When it comes to prevention, treat COVID-19 like the flu, which is still currently a bigger risk in the United States than COVID-19, the Surgeon General previously said.
One of the primary ways the virus spreads is through droplets and surfaces like counters or tables. Use disinfecting wipes to clean commonly touched surfaces and kill germs.
As you would with any other illness, make sure you wash your hands consistently and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, CDC officials say.
- Health officials recommend only wearing a face mask if you’re sick
Stockpiling face masks keep them out of the hands of healthcare workers, who need them most.
The Surgeon General recommends people only use face masks when they are sick in an effort to prevent spreading germs. People who are healthy should not be using face masks.
We previously reported that some stores in Central Texas stores were running low on face mask supplies in February.
If you buy a face mask, the N95 respirator mask is recommended. It is tighter fitting than the standard surgical mask and filters out airborne particles.
H-E-B also recently announced stores are limiting the number of hand soap and disinfecting products customers are allowed to purchase.
“H-E-B is committed to having products available to customers who need them,” an H-E-B public affairs representative said. “Limits are part of H-E-B being prepared and ensuring our customers are able to find what they need.”
If you’re sick and unable to purchase a face mask, the CDC recommends isolating yourself from other people you live with as much as possible and to always cover your coughs and sneezes.
Who is at risk
Some people are more at risk than others when it comes to the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus.
Most cases of COVID-19 have been reported in adults over the age of 30, meaning children are at lower risk of contracting it, according to the CDC.
“There have been very few reports of the clinical outcomes for children with COVID-19 to date,” CDC officials wrote.
Health officials are also exploring the link between smoking and the coronavirus. Patients who smoke have weaker lungs, making them more likely to contract the virus.
Otherwise, the risk factors primarily depend on the amount of exposure each individual has had in both travel and community-related settings, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s three levels of exposure risks are listed below:
Those at high risk
- If you live in the same household as someone that has the coronavirus and that person is NOT using the CDC-recommended precautions for home care and isolation, the risk is high for acquiring the coronavirus.
- The CDC says the same level of high risk applies to someone that has been clinically diagnosed with the coronavirus infection outside of the U.S. that did not have lab testing, or someone that has traveled to and/or from Hubei Province, China.
Those at medium risk
- If you’ve had close contact with someone that has the coronavirus and have not had any exposures that are considered high risk (see above), then you’re considered to be at medium-risk for getting coronavirus. This also applies if you’ve had close contact with someone that was diagnosed with COVID-19 outside of the U.S. that did not have lab testing, according to the CDC.
- If you were on an aircraft and were seated approximately two seats, or six feet, away from a traveler that had the coronavirus, health officials say you are also at medium risk for obtaining the virus.
- The CDC says if you live in the same residence as someone that has coronavirus that is following the recommended precautions for home care and isolation, or if you’ve traveled from mainland China outside Hubei Province and did not have any exposures that are considered high risk, you’re still at a moderate risk for getting the disease.
Those at low risk
- If you’ve been in the same indoor environment (classroom, waiting room, etc.) as someone with the coronavirus, but have not had close contact, you have a low risk to get the virus, per the CDC.
- If you were on an aircraft and were seated within two rows of someone with the coronavirus, but not within six feet AND not having any exposures that meet a medium or high risk, you also have a low risk, according to health officials.
To learn more about the risk factors in getting the coronavirus, click here.
What to do if you think you may be sick with coronavirus
If you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, and especially if you have reason to believe you have been exposed, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to protect yourself and others around you.
Here’s what the CDC recommends you do next:
- Stay home from work or school, unless you’re seeking medical care
This also means avoiding crowded public areas, public transportation and ride-sharing and outdoor activities.
- Even when you’re in your own home, isolate yourself from other people and pets
To help prevent others around you from contracting the coronavirus, it’s important to self-quarantine in a specific room in your home.
The CDC says to not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other family members.
Also, CDC officials say you should also use a separate bathroom and restrict contact with your pets. To learn more about how to keep your pets safe from coronavirus, click here.
- If you plan to visit a doctor’s office, call ahead
If you start experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus, it’s very likely you’ll need to visit a medical care facility to be tested and help treat your symptoms.
Doctor’s offices have a specific set of precautions they can take to keep themselves and other patients safe from the virus, according to the CDC. By notifying medical staff of your visit, you’ll be able to help prevent the spread of the virus to other patients.
- Monitor your symptoms closely
If you find your symptoms getting worse, or if you have difficulty breathing, the CDC recommends for you to call your healthcare provider before you seek care.
Once you make your way to a medical care facility, make sure you wear a face mask as a precaution if you have one at your disposal.
If you have a medical emergency and are in need of immediate medical care, be sure to call 911 and notify dispatch that you have or are being evaluated for the coronavirus before they provide care, per the CDC.
- When to stop home isolation
The CDC recommends that those with the coronavirus should stay isolated until the risk of giving the virus to someone else is low.
However, that time frame for the self-quarantine may differ, pending on the severity of the symptoms and what medical professionals recommend.
How do doctors treat coronavirus
Currently, there is “no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19,” according to the CDC.
Like the flu, the treatment is mainly intended to help relieve symptoms while the body fights the virus. Pain relievers, cough syrup and medication, rest and fluid intake are suggested.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced he will be meeting with pharmaceutical officials Monday to discuss the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Some experts have said a vaccine would take up to a year to develop.
As for now, the CDC recommends following the steps listed above to help keep your symptoms at bay through the duration of the virus.
People with mild symptoms can recover from the virus in a few days or weeks, while a severe case may take months, health officials say.
More of KSAT’s coverage on the coronavirus: