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RHODE ISLAND — As Rhode Islanders become better acquainted with the indoors under a national emergency fighting spread of COVID-19, experts say instructions to stay home, away from others, isn’t optional.
“My recommendation to my family and friends and beyond is to avoid all non essential contact with anyone. No brunch, no St. Pats’ Day, no family gatherings, no handshakes, and always frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizer and wiping down surfaces,”said Jeffrey Bratberg, clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island and member of the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team from 2004-2015.
Other activities WarwickPost.com ran past Bratberg, who shot them down:
- Kids visiting grandparents
- Enter an uncrowded bar for a lonely drink with a friend
- Uneceessary grocery shopping
- Going to the gym
“Like people at bars in Boston, let’s not think that’s OK, that they are fine, why not go out to that bar. This is all hands on deck for individuals but most importantly society, our communities,” Bratberg said.
There is no developed immunity among people to COVID-19, a new respiratory disease caused by a seventh, new, coronavirus. The virus is considered more infectious than the flu, 10 times more likely to kill people it infects, and twice as likely to kill older people it infects. A vaccine against the virus is at least one year away.
While the disease does not appear likely to kill younger people and children, those people are more likely to catch the virus and be able to pass it on to others without exhibiting symptoms that might warn you away from other sick people. In fact, since its’ possible for anyone to carry the virus for days without exhibiting symptoms, Bratberg said the virus is assumed by experts to be spreading among everyone now (termed community spread). So you need to assume you’ve got it and will pass it on, or someone else has it and might infect you with the virus.
This is part of the reason officials are warning people to stay indoors, away from crowds, and other people in general, he said.
“I tell people to think about how they would feel if they thought or knew that they infected someone, if they didn’t follow these rules. Better to follow the rules,” Bratberg said.
Another reason officials urge people to avoid getting close enough to each other to spread the virus is that the faster it spreads through the community, the more seriously ill people it will send to the state’s hospitals. In Italy, the number of serious COVID-19 cases overwhelmed the health care system, forcing doctors to choose who to provide life-saving treatment and equipment to, and who they could not help.
“The risk of coronavirus is not just that any single individual may get sick, but that the disease is contagious enough that the entire health systems can get overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. Here in Italy, hospitals in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions are reporting that beds in intensive care units where the required care can be administered are near capacity and staff are working at their limits even after 20,000 additional medical and health workers were hired to augment services at hospitals and clinics across the country. The government has warned that if cases continue to increase in particularly hard hit areas they do not know how everyone can be treated.”
The problem will not only affect people unlucky enough to suffer severe COVID-19 illnesses. Younger and healthier people who suffer a critical injury, or other medical crisis requiring hospital care will also be competing for hospital beds.
“Any substantial increase in the number of critically ill patients would rapidly exceed total ICU capacity, without even considering other critical admissions, such as for trauma, stroke, and other emergencies,” according to a March 13 article examining the Italy COVID-19 outbreak in JAMA.
But staying home, away from others, can prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed and help keep medical care available for everybody who needs it.
“The more that people follow these rules, the more likely that we will reduce peak cases and preserve healthcare for everyone,” Bratberg said.
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