COVID-19: What should you do if you think you have it?
Jessica Brewer, LMH Health
We’re constantly bombarded with messages about the best practices to prevent being infected with or spreading coronavirus. But what exactly should we do if we suspect we have it? What is the best way to prevent the virus?
With information flying at us from every direction, LMH Health is here to provide in-depth information to help you learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones and our community.
What if I suspect I have COVID-19?
Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious diseases physician with LMH Health’s Internal Medicine Group, said you should start by calling your primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care physician, call Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
“When you call, you will be asked about your symptoms, travel history and known exposures,” Dr. Schrimsher said. “From there, they will determine if it is best for you to visit your primary care physician, come to the emergency room or to stay home.”
Dr. Schrimsher said there are two categories of symptoms - mild and severe. Mild symptoms most often consist of a fever and cough. Severe symptoms can include difficulty breathing.
“Once your physician has talked with you about your symptoms, they will advise you on whether you should be evaluated or it's better just to stay home,” Dr. Schrimsher said. “If you come to the ER with respiratory symptoms, they will ask you to immediately put on a mask, have you sanitize your hands and then ask certain questions. Most people will not need to be admitted to the hospital. If you are sent home, they will provide information that tells you how to care for yourself at home and when to call your physician if your symptoms get worse.”
As a reminder, it is ok to call your primary care physician even if you do not suspect you have COVID-19. If you are suffering from what you believe to be a cold, act as you normally would. If you would call your primary care physician to call in cough syrup, call your physician. We are still here to care for you.
How do I protect myself?
This is as simple as it gets. Dr. Schrimsher assured that the best way to protect yourself, your family and the community is to wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with infected persons. If you feel you have been exposed, it's best to quarantine yourself 14 days and be smart about your whereabouts and your self-care.
“The recommended quarantine for 14 days is important because this is the most likely time period where people will develop symptoms and could potentially infect others,” Dr. Schrimsher said.
What is this curve, how can we flatten it?
The curve is a visual representation of the number of individuals infected over a period of time. The higher peak indicates that more people are infected at the same time. This means that we could see a large number of very ill patients, all needing treatment, all at the same time. This puts a strain on our healthcare system and with everyone around the United States feeling these pains around the same time, it may result in a lack of supplies, ventilators, healthcare providers and long wait times everywhere.
“One of the problems with this virus is that our immune systems haven’t seen it before and have not yet been able to adjust to it,” Dr. Schrimsher said. “This, paired with the fact that it is highly contagious, is why we've seen so many getting sick in a short period of time.”
Methods being used to "flatten the curve," like closing schools and restaurants, will help slow the rate of spread through the community. Dr. Schrimsher said that though the recommended quarantine isn’t ideal for day-to-day life, restricting the number of people that can be in one place at one time is immensely important and imperative to slow this curve and help keep people safe.
"This ultimately allows us to give patients the care they need, without having to worry about running out of resources or having enough staff,” she said.
Dr. Schrimsher said that once enough people have fought off the virus, hopefully gaining more of an immunity, we should also see infection rates continue to drop. Flattening this curve is crucial and can be done so by abiding by the recommended quarantine and isolation times, avoiding sick people, avoiding physical contact with those outside of your home and avoiding groups of more than 10 people.
What is the difference between self-isolation and quarantine?
Simply put, quarantine is separating yourself from others when you are still asymptomatic, meaning you currently have no symptoms. If you have recently traveled to places that have had a large number of COVID-19 cases but you do not have symptoms, a quarantine is recommended. This is so that you do not spread the virus to someone if you have it but are not yet aware.
Self-isolation occurs when you are symptomatic. Dr. Schrimsher said that being isolated for at least 7 days covers the period of time when the vast majority of people will have recovered from the illness. The best thing to do if you suspect you have COVID-19, but do not have severe symptoms, is to go ahead and self-isolate and call your physician.
There is a shortage of masks right now, should I be wearing one?
The short answer is most likely, no. If you feel healthy and are not showing symptoms, there is no need for you to wear a mask. The best thing for you to do is to be vigilant about frequent hand-washing or frequent use of hand sanitizer and to try to avoid touching your face.
Examples of when wearing a mask are appropriate include those who are infected, or think they might be infected, with COVID-19 and need to see a doctor. They shouldn't be leaving their homes otherwise.
How can I help?
LMH Health provides care to all who need it, regardless of ability to pay. You can help patients in need by making a gift to the Help & Healing Fund, which ensures patients have the medication, equipment and support they need to recover. For more information, visit www.lmh.org/foundation.
Above all, it is important to be safe and do the best you can to quarantine for the allotted time, wash your hands frequently and take the precautions necessary to stay safe and healthy. It takes all of us to help "flatten the curve."