COVID-19 is a disease that is hitting our community relatively hard. As of April 9th, Blacks represent 40% of COVID cases. This is attributed to a myriad of reasons ranging from socio-economics to underlying health conditions that disproportionately impact people of color. As such, NSBE Boston Professionals has curated insights from Dr. Sara Suliman, Instructor in Medicine, Immunobiologist to educate our communities about COVID-19, symptoms and ways to maintain your mental health while social distancing.
We would like to thank Dr. Sara Suliman for her insights
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is an infectious disease caused by a strain of Coronavirus, called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV2). There are more people infected with SARS-CoV2, than there are symptomatic COVID-19 cases. So it is always important to assume that there are more carriers in the community than the number of reported COVID-19 cases.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the primary symptoms include any combination of the following: a new cough, fever, shortness of breath, headaches and loss of sense of smell or taste. If symptoms escalate to trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, blue lips or face, then that may indicate lower oxygen levels than normal, and you should seek medical attention immediately. On the other hand, one may be infected with the virus and still not show any symptoms, while being infectious to others.
What makes me at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease?
There are many underlying conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 disease. People who are above 65 years of age, or are in a nursing home are at a much higher risk of severe symptoms. A number of other conditions also increase risk of severe illness, including chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, heart problems, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease. People who are immuno-compromised as a result of cancer therapy, or receiving immune-suppresive treatment for autoimmune diseases or organ transplants are also at high risk of severe disease. Finally, immune deficiencies that are genetic or acquired (e.g. HIV/AIDS) also substantially increase risk of severe COVID-19 disease.
What is social distancing? And what is its purpose?
Social distancing refers to actions that reduce the possibility that the SARS-CoV2 virus will transmit from one person to another. The virus is transmitted in droplets, which can be released by talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing, and can travel upto six feet in the air. Social distancing includes practices that maximize distance between people to reduce transmission, and staying home when possible. Wearing masks decreases the chance that virus-containing droplets would transmit to another person, although they do not completely prevent it.
The main purpose of social distancing is to slow down the virus transmission, so that the number of patients that show severe COVID-19 symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, are still within the capacity of hospitals to treat. If the number of severe cases increases rapidly, it will quickly exceed the capacity of the healthcare system to treat people adequately. Therefore, we need to do our part in reducing the chance of virus transmission, especially to vulnerable people who are at high risk of severe disease, to decrease the burden on healthcare workers.
I am young and healthy, should I still practice social distancing?
Yes. Although the majority of severe cases are from elderly individuals, there is still a substantial number of young individuals presenting severe COVID-19 symptoms, and may require hospitalization after infection with the virus. Furthermore, asymptomatic individuals who appear healthy can still be carriers and transmit the virus to others. Unless you are an essential worker or cannot work from home, you are highly encouraged to stay at home as much as possible.
I am worried that I might be infected with SARS-CoV2? Can I get tested?
If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, you can get tested. Unfortunately, the supply of diagnostic tests is still very limited for community-wide testing, although more tests are under development to increase supply. Currently there aren’t enough kits for patients with mild or no symptoms. Therefore, the tests are prioritized to patients with severe symptoms, and healthcare providers at high risk of exposure to the virus.
This situation has been very stressful, can I go outside or socialize with friends and family for support?
It is very important to take care of your mental health and maintain your social support system during this period of uncertainty. As much as possible, however, try to seek social alternatives to physical meetings with family and friends, such as phone and video calls, in order to reduce the chance of virus transmission. You can take a walk and exercise outdoors as long as you maintain a safe distance from others, and wear a mask to reduce the risk of transmission. Practice good hand hygiene and common sense to ensure that little transmission occurs from the outdoors to your home, especially if you share the household with more vulnerable members. But make sure you maintain contact with your social network for support.
Courtesy of Dr. Sara Suliman, Instructor in Medicine, Immunobiologist and NSBE Boston member since 2019