Back to Health for West Virginia and the World

Turning a tsunami into a stream

It seems like a lifetime of challenge with COVID-19, but in reality, it has been about 3-4 months.

It is amazing how things can change.

In West Virginia, we are closing non-essential businesses and have ordered a stay-at-home declaration. 

Why are we moving this way?

Well, it is becoming increasingly clear that the main mode of spread of the virus is by droplet transmission. Like the flu.

That means that most people pick up the virus from touching infected surfaces and then bringing their hands to their mouth, nose or eyes. This introduces the virus into new hosts. 

In these newly infected people, the virus replicates into 10,000 copies within an hour. In a few days, an infected person carries hundreds of millions of copies of COVID-19 in every teaspoon-full of blood. 

Since we have no native immunity to the virus, (remember it jumped from bats to humans), the virus can multiply unimpeded, until the infected person can generate enough of a host response to defeat the virus. 

Think about this, though. In order for us to stop the spread of the virus in West Virginia, our country and in the world, we need at least 60% of our population to be immune to COVID-19. 

This is called herd immunity and it works like a firewall to stop the spread of COVID-19. The virus spreads from susceptible person to person. If a person is immune, it stops the spread. The problem with this strategy is that around the world about 4% of people infected are dying of the disease and in the US about 1% of people with the virus are dying.

Trying to stop the virus this way will lead to a lot of deaths.

That is why developing a vaccine is so important. Instead of having to get infected with the virus, a vaccine will instruct your immune system to respond to specific parts of the virus and keep the virus from multiplying and infecting the person.  

What do we do while we are waiting on a vaccine?

We work together to stop the spread of the virus using effective strategies that have worked in China, South Korea and Singapore. 

We move away from each other so that the virus has a much harder time spreading from person-to-person. Recent studies tell us that the virus mainly infects by droplet spread. 

That means the most effective strategy is to really pay attention to not touching counters, elevator buttons, doorknobs in public places and then touching your face. 

We know that COVID-19 can survive for a day on cardboard (although it is in very low concentrations at the end of the day), and for more than a day on plastic and stainless steel.

Wash your hands before touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes) and clean counters, doorknobs, mailboxes, etc regularly. Soap and water is fine, as is any disinfectant spray. Outside, stay 6 feet away from each other, (COVID-19 can also be transferred by cough or sneeze), and cover your cough or sneeze.

Washing your hands with soap and water is best - 20 seconds around hands, in between fingers, and wrists. Watch putting your hands to your face. Clean surfaces frequently.

Does this work?

In a recent article in the New Yorker, the well-known surgeon Atul Gawande shared what he learned from medical professionals in Wuhan, China. Wuhan was the origin of COVID-19.

When the outbreak started, healthcare workers were infected at a high rate with COVID-19, to the point the government had to call in reinforcements. 

But they learned from their experience.

They started requiring that all health workers wear gloves and surgical masks (that do not block the transmission of COVID-19 in the air) for all activities. When healthcare workers in China were doing procedures that generated coughing, they wore N-95 masks that blocks the virus. 

Otherwise, they wore only surgical masks, which helped them not touch their nose or mouth. They cleaned frequently with disinfectant, separated people with fever from others. They followed people with the virus and quarantined all contacts. 

They did what we are doing to keep folks healthy. 

Stay socially separated - 6 feet is good. Don’t touch your face and if you are eating with your hands or touch something public (cardboard, doorknob, counter, etc), wash your hands.

Soap and water for 20 seconds or hand sanitizer. Between fingers, wrists, and through all parts of our hands. Keep your hands away from your mouth and nose. Clean any area with soap and water and/or disinfectant that may have touched by others. 

Remember, in the study from China, 80% of people were either asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic. Thus, spread can occur from people before they demonstrate any symptoms. 

Everyday, we are learning more about the virus. We need to use our power to protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our healthcare workers.

We have the power.

Let’s use it.

Almost heaven.