Written by SMH Digital Communications Specialist Ann Key
As concerns continue to rise in the U.S. about the public health threat posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the federal government is working closely with public health partners, including Sarasota Memorial Hospital, to ramp up preparedness and response plans, along with disease prevention and containment efforts.
As of Feb. 26, the public health officials confirmed that 14 cases have been diagnosed in the United States, in addition to 39 cases among those who were repatriated from high-risk settings, for a current total of 53 cases in the U.S. Twelve of the 14 cases were linked to travel to China, and two cases occurred through person-to-person transmission to close household contacts of a person with confirmed COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There have been no confirmed cases in Florida, and no related deaths reported in the U.S.
“The virus is spreading worldwide, and it’s just a matter of time before it reaches Florida,” explained local infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, who oversees Sarasota Memorial’s Infection Prevention and Control Department. “We need to prepare just as we would for a hurricane. We don’t know when it will strike, or how severe it will be. But we know it’s important to stay informed.”
Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 appears to occur mainly by respiratory transmission, droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within about 6 feet) or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
What You Can Do
Everyone can do their part to guard against this emerging public health threat. The CDC recommends taking the same precautions as you commonly take to avoid cold and flu viruses. These include:
- Wash your hands frequently and properly. And always wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, using the restroom or visiting a busy public place; and before eating or preparing food.
- Cough or sneeze into your shirt sleeve (the crook of your elbow) or a tissue, not into your hands.
- Stay home if you are sick and do not return to work, school or social activities until you have been fever-free for at least 48 hours without medication.
- Get a flu shot, if you haven’t already.
Handwashing 101 for All Ages
Use these easy steps to teach kids good hand hygiene — & to ensure your own handwashing is effective.
1. Wet hands.
2. Add soap.
3. Rub hands together for about 20 seconds. Instead of counting to 20 while scrubbing your hands, try singing the “Happy Birthday to You” song twice. (This is really handy for kids who cannot yet count to 20.)
4. Scrub your palms, fingertips, in between fingers and the backs of your hands well. Wash all the way up to your wrists.
5. Rinse your hands until all of the bubbles are gone.
6. Dry your hands with a paper towel. Use the paper towel to turn the sink faucet off, and then throw the paper towel away.
If symptoms are severe, or you have underlying conditions such as a weakened immune system or chronic respiratory disease, call your family doctor or a hospital ER for guidance on when and where to seek care. In emergencies, always call 9-1-1.
“While the individual risk for Americans remains low, we should not be complacent,” Dr. Gordillo said. “We all need to be proactive and take steps to protect each other and our communities.”
- For travel alert notices and other recommendations from the CDC, check out the organization’s related resources at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/.
- For more on flu prevention, proper hand hygiene and tips for teaching young children how to wash their hands, follow these links:
Keep Germs at Bay: Wash the Right Way
Flu Season: What You Need to Know
As Sarasota Memorial's digital communications specialist, Ann Key manages the health care system's Healthe-Matters blog, as well as other wellness and social media channels.