PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders will need to do a lot of hand-washing and stay home sick more often as spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus, nears pandemic level, since there won’t be a vaccine for at least a year.
The seventh new, or novel, coronavirus, so dubbed when its spread started raising alarm last month, has so far spared the Ocean State. There are no Rhode Island cases of COVID-19 yet.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota reports 72,000 COVID-19 cases in mainland China, with a case-fatality rate (CFR) of 2.3 percent. The report suggests most cases are mild, but hit the elderly the hardest.
By comparison, the case fatality rate with seasonal flu is about 0.1%.
Flu is much more widespread than COVID-19, which in most cases can currently be traced to international travelers. On Wednesday, however, the CDC confirmed a California case attributed to “community spread,” meaning there is no known connection between that case and international travel.
“Although the general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is still low and there have been no confirmed cases in our state, everyone can contribute to our preparedness work by taking simple, everyday steps to limit the spread of viruses. Those steps include washing your hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when you are sick,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Those steps are also effective against the flu and norovirus, which are currently more prevalent than COVID-19, she said.
Flu shots do not protect against COVID-19, but they help people and communities stay heathier, an important part of Rhode Island’s preparedness work, said RIDOH spokesman Joseph Wendelken.
Hand-washing and staying home sick are also the only effective protection against the COVID-19 people are likely to see for at least a year in lieu of a vaccine, said immunologist Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci delivered that news during Wednesday’s White House press conference on the virus, contradicting President Donald Trump’s assertion that a vaccine would be ready quickly.
On Thursday, the White House instructed health officials to seek approval from Vice President Mike Pence’s office before speaking publicly about the new coronavirus.
“I’m disturbed by reports the White House is muzzling Dr. Fauci, a top @NIAIDNews disease expert. This is a time for expertise and real information. The Trump Admin should allow experts to speak out, speak for science & a plan that will help protect the American people,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) Tweeted Thursday.
RIDOH, federal officials monitoring international travel
RI’s Health Department is coordinating with federal officials to ensure that anyone who has been in China in the previous 14 days is self-monitoring for symptoms for 14 days and is limiting their movement, according to an announcement from the agency.
The Health Department is instructing people recently arriving from China to stay home from work or school, and to avoid public places and gatherings for 14 days. Once 14 symptom-free days pass since someone’s last potential exposure to COVID-19, there is no longer a health concern about that person getting sick or spreading the illness, RIDOH reports.
RIDOH reports the monitoring program started on Feb. 3. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is routing all flights carrying people who have traveled to China within the last 14 days through one of 11 U.S. airports. Travelers are categorized and processed on arrival according to three levels:
- People returning from Hubei Province, which is the center of the outbreak in China, are being quarantined near the international airport where they landed.
- People coming from other areas of China are being screened for symptoms at their U.S. arrival airport. Those who are symptomatic are being isolated near their arrival airport.
- People who are not coming from Hubei Province and who are not symptomatic are continuing to their final destinations.
For those headed to Rhode Island, RIDOH is notified of their arrival and is contacting these travelers so that they understand the self-monitoring guidance and how to seek medical care if it is needed. Since, early February, 26 people have been part of this self-monitoring process. Six travelers were self-monitoring as of Thursday, and three of those finished that process then.
The RIDOH offers people and businesses the following tips for preparing for the continuing spread of COVID-19:
Public COVID-19 tips:
- Get your flu shot. Flu shots are your best protection against the flu, and they help protect the friends and loved ones around you who may be more at risk of getting very sick because of the flu, such as pregnant women, infants, and older adults. Flu vaccine can also help people avoid flu-related hospitalizations. This allows hospitals to focus on patients with more severe illnesses.
- Wash your hands regularly. When washing your hands, use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
- Stay home from work or school when you are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
- Keep surfaces clean (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
- Don’t wear a mask unless you’re sick: You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. Face masks are generally used to prevent sick people from getting other people sick.
Business COVID-19 tips:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay out of work until they are free of: fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines.
- Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible. If possible, maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.
- Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees. Employers can do this by displaying posters that encourage cough and sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene.
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.