By John Kaliabakos
According to the CDC, on the last day of February, 15 Americans had tested positive for COVID-19. A month later, that number had grown exponentially to over 150,000 infected nationwide, one-third of whom were in New York City. The number of cases is expected to overwhelm our already strained healthcare system within weeks.
This deadly and highly contagious novel coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, and is believed to have originally been circulated among animals. Bats are considered the natural hosts of coronaviruses, so it is suspected that they were the initial vectors of COVID-19. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease because it is associated with the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2) which is genetically related to the SARS-CoV-1 virus that emerged in China at the end of 2002.
Although COVID-19 and seasonal influenza are both transmitted from person to person and may cause similar symptoms, their estimated mortality rates differ greatly. Whereas approximately one in 1,000 people who are infected with seasonal influenza die prematurely, the estimated mortality rate of COVID-19 is 20 to 30 per 1,000 people.
Unlike influenza, there is no vaccine or treatment currently available for COVID-19. It also seems that COVID-19 is more transmissible than influenza and, since it is a novel virus, no one has prior immunity. Thus, the entire human population is susceptible to infection.
The virus is now spreading rapidly from person to person. It is estimated that one infected person could infect three more people. The virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets which are emitted via sneezes, coughs, yawns, or even when one simply exhales. It has been shown that COVID-19 survives for a minimum of several hours, if not days, on hard surfaces such as handles, counters, telephones, smartphones and tablets. Although transmission occurs while an infected person is symptomatic, evidence suggests that transmission could also occur from an infected person who is asymptomatic.
The incubation period for COVID-19 is estimated to be between 2 and 14 days. Symptoms include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, muscle pain, and tiredness. Elderly people, those with underlying medical conditions, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk. At this time, evidence shows that most children under 19 experience mild or no symptoms while infected; however, they are all able to transmit the virus.
As New York City has become the nation’s epicenter for the disease, it is up to each New Yorker to do their part in slowing the spread of this virus before it completely overwhelms our healthcare system. For the first time in history, New York City has essentially closed down. We must, as resilient New Yorkers, work together and adhere fervently to the guidelines that have been issued to stem the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is key during this stage of the pandemic. Those who exhibit symptoms must arrange for a test at one of the many testing locations. If tested positive, patients whose symptoms are manageable should stay at home under self-quarantine; if their symptoms are severe, hospitalization may be necessary. In either case, all family members and close contacts must self-quarantine in order to avoid the continuing spread of the virus.
The FDA is currently studying various treatments and vaccines which look promising but are not yet approved or available to the public. At this point, strict public health measures need to be adhered to—limiting contact with others (social distancing), frequent handwashing with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer if water is not readily available, and disinfecting hard surfaces in work areas and homes frequently. These measures will aid in greatly reducing the spread of the virus in our very densely populated city.
As a pharmacist who has served the Greenwich Village community for 25 years, I know that the people here have the ability to pull together to prevent a bad situation from becoming worse. I implore each of you to stay home and take advantage of delivery options for food, supplies and medications. For all of you who are well right now, or asymptomatic but infected, you have an opportunity to hold on to your good health and prevent a more vulnerable neighbor from falling ill. I have personally witnessed my fellow New Yorkers’ strength, compassion, and kindness during serious and life-altering events in the past, such as blackouts, 9/11, and Hurricane Sandy. I am confident that we will overcome this pandemic as well. Village Apothecary is—and has always been—dedicated to serving our community, and we are fully committed to caring for all of our patients and neighbors during this very trying time.
Finally, I would like to urge you, once again, to heed the advice to put life on pause. Please pay close attention to good nourishment and hydration to maintain a robust immune system, continue all prescription medications for chronic conditions, and do your best to manage stress and anxiety levels. This pandemic has changed the lives of everyone around the world. We must remember that we are all in this together and that in time it will pass. We will then emerge stronger and more united than ever before.
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