So, the COVID-19 coronavirus has made it to Houston, Texas. The 1st case was reported in San Antonio a few weeks ago, and the Wuhan-region virus seems to be spreading at a clip that seems uncomfortable for the normal Houstonians. So we all can be informed, prepared, smart, & safe, I wanted to share some words.
First thing’s first.
I am not a virologist. I am not an immunologist. Nor am I an epidemiologist. Despite the fact that E.N.T.s have an expertise in the organ systems where the virus is located, we are not experts in the minutiae of its construction, the immunological pathways of how your body reacts, or the macroscopic patterns of transmission.
Given the scale and intensity of this creeping pandemic, it’s important to speak calming, clearly, & with a collected mind.
What Will Happen if I Get COVID-19?
- In mild cases, you’ll experience what appears like the flu: sore throat, coughing, a runny nose, and fever.
- If it worsens, you’ll experience fatigue, dry coughing, myalgia, or dyspnea.
- On the severe end, there are headaches, dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, or shortness of breath.
Full CDC list here.
What Is Coronavirus?
Without getting into too much detail, the virus looks like the SARS virus. Its actual name is SARS-CoV-19 because it is constructed of a positive sense, single-stranded RNA. This means it can easily attach to a host cell and then make itself at home to make you sick.
Normally, the virus would die if exposed to air, but people are catching & spreading the coronavirus since it can linger in the air for up to 3 hours. On some surfaces, like cardboard, it has last for up to 24 hours (according to a non-published, non-peer-reviewed study recently done). On most surfaces, the time was way lower (4-16 hours).
The thing that was different with SARS & is different with COVID-19 is that the virus has a spiked glycoprotein envelope that allows it to survive in the air & fuse with host cells. It’s a new virus mutation, so no one has a built-up immunity to it (unlike the flu). That envelope means it looks like any other glycoprotein in your body and binds to the host on the ACE2 receptor. This means it could spread to about 40-70% of the global population.
What Does Coronavirus Mean for Me?
We all know about avoiding the sneezing and coughing people. The droplets they project need to make it to your mouth, nose, or eyes in order to contract it. Once you get it, it’ll incubate—on average—about 4 days until making you sicks. But that is an average but not the range of 2-14 days.
This means being close to people increases that risk (within 3-6 feet). This means providing the virus with plenty of opportunities spread increases that risk. This means placing the virus where it’ll survive the best will increase that risk of contracting & falling ill.
So, COVID-19 spreads easily but is it a death sentence? Hardly. The symptoms listed above represent ~94% of the population. The remaining ~5% of cases turn critical like respiratory failure, septic shock, or multi-organ failure. Those most at-risk patients to develop that severe of symptoms are at-risk populations like the elderly, immunocompromised people, and pregnant women. Despite the fact that half of this <5% of cases are turning fatal, there’s still reason to take precautions. 70% of the global population infected plus the estimated mortality rate of ~2%, that’s 30-100 million deaths globally.
It makes sense to be mindful & concientious, not just for yourself but for your neighbors around you.
What Should I Do about COVID-19 in Houston?
If the virus is spread through close person-to-person, then I would limit that. If transmission through contacting surfaces, then be more observant of where you’re placing your hands. If the COVID-19 virus can infect you if you’re constantly touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, then try to be mindful of how you’re touching your face.
- You won’t get COVID-19 by just being near people.
- You won’t get coronavirus by being in the same room as someone else.
- You won’t get sick by simply touching your face.
As this affects your day-to-day living, we’ve seen the effects in Houston with the canceling of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the canceling of schools, and professional sports canceling seasons. The simplicity of getting sick & possibly dying all make it easy to panic, but there is no reason to panic.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a public health practice intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease like COVID-19. In a nutshell, it means:
- Minimizing contact with people
- Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet if around people
- Avoiding large crowds of people, mass transit, & unnecessary social gatherings
Social distancing is a less drastic measure than—let’s say—isolation or self-quarantine, but it does change your lifestyle in a way we aren’t used to.
What’s the Difference Between COVID-19 & Allergy Symptoms?
Spring has arrived in Houston. With the onset of allergy season, the pollen count is predicted to increase sooner and with greater intensity given our very mild winter in southeast Texas. That means hay fever causing respiratory symptoms from oak, ragweed, & pollen. But coronavirus & seasonal allergies look different:
- No itching with COVID-19.
- No fever or shortness of breath with allergic reactions to pollen. (Wheezing doesn’t count.)
How Houstonians Should Protect Themselves from COVID-19
For the city of Houston and my fellow Houstonians, I’d recommend controlling what you can control. That’s why it’s important to follow what the experts are saying:
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact. Remember that’s 3-6 feet, not 15 miles.
- Stay home if you think you’re getting sick.
- Get tested for COVID-19 if you think you’re actually getting sick.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- If you are sick, wear a facemask.
- Clean & disinfect your surroundings
Life will be unpleasant and inconvenient in the short term as people hoard hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and water. Those collective actions are being made out of fear: of the unknown and the unpredictable.
There are a lot of things we still don’t know. So please keep that in mind. The world’s not ending, despite the telltale signs we’ve seen time and time again in apocalyptic films. Life will return to normal as it did after Tropical Storm Allison, after each of the floods, and after Hurricane Harvey.
Just make sure you practice care, caution, & cleanliness.
If you’d like to read more, please educate yourself at any of the following: