A coronavirus describes a large number of viruses that usually cause mild respiratory illness. But there are coronaviruses that have caused more severe illness, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Novel coronavirus 2019 is a new coronavirus and can cause pneumonia. Other terms you may see used to name this virus include: COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, or 2019- nCoV.
This is a respiratory illness. Symptoms include cough, fever, sore throat, and/or difficulty breathing. The degree of severity of these symptoms varies. This disease can cause pneumonia. There have been deaths from this illness. However, most cases (80%) appear to cause only mild or moderate illness, meaning that those cases are not severe enough to require hospitalization. People may experience symptoms similar to a cold or the flu.
More information about symptoms and a symptom self-checker tool is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Like MERS and SARS, COVID-19 closely resembles coronaviruses found in bats but not humans. Scientists believe that the bat virus had a change in its genes that permitted it to spread to humans, possibly via an intermediate carrier (snakes) in an animal market in Wuhan, China.
Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through: droplets in the air from coughs or sneezes, close personal contact like shaking hands, or touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets that come from their nose or mouth carrying the virus can directly enter the nose, mouth, or eyes of a person standing close by. Droplets carrying the virus also may be indirectly transmitted by hands or other surfaces. Though some unknowns about COVID-19 and its spread remain, transmission of the virus is thought to occur mainly through these mechanisms.
The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States. However, individual risk is dependent on exposure. People who are close contacts of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are at higher risk.
Close contacts of a confirmed case should stay home and remain quarantined there for 14 days to monitor for symptoms. If they develop symptoms or if symptoms worsen, they should contact their medical provider by phone or online before attempting to show up to a doctor’s office in-person.
When someone within Walla Walla County has a confirmed case, they are contacted by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) for an interview to determine who they recently came into contact with that may have been exposed to the virus. The DOH sends a list with close contacts to the Walla Walla Department of Community Health, who reaches out individually to those contacts. If you believe that you are a close contact of a confirmed case but were not contacted by the Department of Community Health, it is because your name was not on the list provided by the DOH. However, anyone who feels they have been exposed is encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The DOH has issued specific guidelines for close contacts of confirmed cases. If you receive a message by phone, email or mail that you are a close contact of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, it is important that you follow the instructions. Close contacts of a confirmed case should monitor their health for fever, cough and shortness of breath during the 14 days after the last day they were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19. They should not go to work or school, and should avoid public places for 14 days.
Workplaces may be notified by an employee that they are a confirmed case or close contact. A table with general guidance for isolation and quarantine is available online. The employer should work with that employee to ensure needed support, such as sick leave benefits or remote work options. Additional notification may be sent to other employees in the workplace at the employer’s discretion, while respecting the medical privacy of the affected employee.
This is an evolving situation and the Department’s role and guidance may change (sometimes rapidly) with the passage of time, a change in circumstances, and/or release of updated guidelines from the Washington State DOH and CDC.
If you are showing symptoms and believe you may have COVID-19, you should call your healthcare provider to discuss testing. There are currently no restrictions for who can be tested for COVID-19 in Washington State. However, the Department of Health guidance to healthcare providers directs them to focus testing on people with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. While anyone can ask a provider to be tested for COVID-19, testing is provided at the provider’s discretion.
People still should contact their medical provider if they are ill in order to be evaluated for testing. It is not absolutely necessary for everyone with a cold to be tested for coronavirus. Your medical provider may want to monitor your illness or test you for something other than COVID-19, such as influenza.
Those who are being tested for COVID-19 are to remain isolated at home while results are pending. Others who live with them but are not ill will only be required to quarantine if the test results are positive. It is important that people who are not ill do not go to the clinic or hospital seeking coronavirus testing. If you are ill and believe you may have been exposed to coronavirus, call ahead to your medical provider before coming in. People who are ill only with mild cold symptoms also should NOT immediately go to a clinic or hospital seeking coronavirus testing. Doing so displaces other patients who truly need urgent care and increases the risk of spread of respiratory infections in health care settings.
The following locations are currently able to test for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19: Providence St. Mary’s Emergency Department, Providence St. Mary’s Urgent Care (now doing drive-through triage/testing), Providence St. Mary’s Family Medicine Fever Clinic, Walla Walla Clinic, Department of Corrections, Walla Walla VA and Yakima Valley Family Medical Center. The health care provider or office who administered your test will contact you with your results once they are available. If you have MyChart, lab results will also appear in your online account. The current estimated turnaround for receiving results is 3-4 days, though the exact timing may vary.
If you have been tested, remain isolated in your home until you receive your results.
The response to COVID-19 is demanding a tremendous amount from our health care system. The role of the healthcare system in this response is diagnosis, treatment, ongoing care, and addressing individual health concerns. Healthcare and dental providers may ask you to postpone non-urgent visits or procedures. They may also be providing tele-health options (consultations by phone or online).
If your symptoms worsen, call your healthcare provider for further instructions. If you are experiencing a life-threatening situation, call 911. If you have a mask, try to put that on before first responders arrive.
In response to the growing concern about COVID-19, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange on March 10 announced a limited-time special enrollment period for qualified people who are currently without insurance. The special enrollment period continues through April 8.
Those who are looking to enroll in health insurance should call the customer support center for the health benefit exchange between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. That number is 855-923-4633. The state and federal government are also working to roll out expanded options. We will update this document and our website when more details are available.
We are still learning about this disease, which first was identified in China in December 2019. Based on our current understanding, symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure, and people are believed to be most contagious when they are symptomatic. This means someone who is infected is most likely to spread the illness when they are actively coughing or sneezing.
It is possible for people to spread the illness when they have mild symptoms or no symptoms. For confirmed or presumptive positive cases who are isolated at home during recovery, they are not released from isolation until follow-up tests have come back negative at least twice, showing that the virus is not present in samples from swabs of their mouth and nose. This may take several weeks.
It is possible that an undetected case who self-isolates because they were exposed or are not feeling well could be contagious after their symptoms go away. Transmission would be less likely when they don’t have symptoms compared to when they are actively symptomatic, which is why encourage anyone who has symptoms to stay home and avoid contact with others.
At this time, there is no vaccine for coronavirus. Efforts are underway to develop a vaccine. However, that process could take 12-18 months at the earliest.
The best way to prevent infection is to take precautions to avoid exposure to this virus. These are exactly the same precautions you would take to avoid coming down with a cold or the flu.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Use EPA-approved products to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, immediately self-isolate. Stay home and away from others. Call your health care provider before going to get care and tell them about your symptoms as well as any recent travel or contact with someone who has COVID-19. They can provide you instructions for seeking care so that you do not expose others.
Your health care provider may want to monitor your symptoms or test you for COVID-19 or other illnesses like influenza. There are many causes of fevers, coughs, and other respiratory symptoms. Clinics may have surgical masks patients are asked to wear while in the clinic. Please protect others and wear a mask if asked. Wash your hands. Cover your cough or sneeze. If you are ill, stay home.
The vast majority (at least 80%) of people with COVID-19 recover just with their own immune response. Treatment includes supportive care for symptoms, fluid intake, and isolation/observation. About 10-20% of cases appear to have severe enough illness to require hospitalization. Those patients also receive supportive care and treatment for complications of the infection (pneumonia, problems breathing, etc.). Some experimental antiviral treatments are currently being studied in clinical trials, but their effectiveness is uncertain at this time.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of standard prevention steps for respiratory illness. Continue to practice those. Increase frequency of handwashing, make sure you are cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and stay home if you are ill. All of these are key for slowing the spread of illness. Masks are not currently recommended as a prevention strategy for people who are well in the general public. Medical providers have specific guidance on masks and personal protective equipment and should follow that guidance.
Take many of the same steps to prepare for an outbreak as you would to prepare for other emergencies:
· Make an emergency plan of action with your household members, relatives, and friends.
· Know your workplace’s sick leave policies and whether you can work remotely.
- Decide who will pick up and watch children if schools or child cares are closed, or if children get sick.
- Have emergency supplies like nonperishable food, water, personal hygiene supplies, and medicine or other medical supplies in an accessible emergency kit – enough to last your household for at least 14 days.
- Include a list of emergency contacts as well as a list of medical conditions and medications for household members.
Please respect the orders and rules put in place to help reduce the spread of illness. We are relying on our community to do the right thing to keep people safe and healthy.
Set up a separate room in the household for someone who is sick and clean the room regularly. Clean, disposable face masks may be useful for the individual who is sick, not for the well members of the household.
Know your neighbors or friends in the area and be ready to support each other during an emergency. Check in on those who live alone or have underlying health conditions and may need extra support. If you live alone, talk to your friends and family members about who would be available to call or message to check in on you if you become sick.
Through all of this, remember to stay calm, prepared and informed. Check reliable sources for updates and follow the advice of public health professionals.
People who have underlying conditions or are otherwise immunocompromised are at higher risk from this illness, as well as other illnesses like the flu. Avoiding contact with ill people is crucial.
If a household member of someone who is immunocompromised is suspected of having or confirmed to have coronavirus, the CDC instructs healthcare professionals and local public health staff to assess isolation options for the COVID-19 patient outside of the home so that they are not in proximity to the immunocompromised household member.
If you do not have an ill household member but are immunocompromised, talk to your healthcare provider about what steps you should take to protect yourself. While masks are not recommended for the general public as a preventive measure, a healthcare provider may suggest that someone with a particularly vulnerable immune system wear a mask. Please follow your healthcare provider’s guidance and keep in mind that masks are not the best option for everyone with a vulnerable immune system.
Now is also a good time to learn what options your healthcare provider may have for remote consultations, by phone or online. This can help you get your questions answered before going into a clinic, thereby minimizing exposure to this virus as well as other illnesses.
People who are 60 or older, as well as people of all ages who have underlying medical conditions, are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Other higher risk groups include pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems.
Yes! Blood supplies are running low because of worry over COVID-19. As with any other situation, people who are ill should stay home and should not go to donate blood. However, people who are well may certainly do so. You can’t catch COVID-19 from donating blood. In fact, as supplies become critically low, we encourage you to donate blood.
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, refers to specialized clothing or equipment that can minimize exposure to certain workplace hazards like infectious diseases. Medical gowns, gloves, eye protection, and N95 respirators (masks) are examples of PPE, and are critically important for protecting the health of medical personnel who come into contact with people who have or may have COVID-19.
Information about the proper use of PPE for healthcare workers can be found on the CDC website. PPE must be used alongside other hygiene measures, such as proper handwashing.
Global shortages of PPE are adversely affecting health care personnel who rely on this equipment to protect themselves while treating patients. Members of the general public should not attempt to purchase or hoard PPE, and are encouraged to donate any PPE they already own to local health care providers.
Current CDC guidelines recommend use of face coverings or masks among healthy people in community settings. (Guidelines may change as experts learn more about the transmission of COVID-19.) However, masks and gloves may give members of the general public a false sense of security, and users must continue to vigilantly practice physical distancing, hand washing, and other hygiene protocol to protect themselves and others.
There are currently no national guidelines or recommendations around the use of homemade masks. Those who decide to make their own masks should wash their hands with soap and water before and after touching the mask, should stop wearing them when they are damp from breathing, and should wash them in hot water after each use.
Social distancing, also called physical distancing, a common strategy for reducing the spread of disease. The closer the contact between people – and the more people in a group – the greater the risk of passing along viruses. To practice physical distancing, try to keep at least 6 feet away from others. Avoid handshakes and hugs – use smiles and “hellos” instead. Stay home aside from essential trips like medical appointments while the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order remains in effect. If possible, consider having groceries and supplies delivered.
These rules are in place for everyone, and are especially critical for those who have a compromised immune system; are pregnant; have a serious condition such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease; or have a cough, fever, and/or difficulty breathing. People older than 60 are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
Physical distancing is not the same as social isolation. Though current orders call for maintaining physical space from others, it is now more important than ever to stay socially connected—albeit in different ways than normal.
Prior to any trip, be sure to check CDC travel notices. Multiple countries have been listed at a level 3 warning, which means to avoid nonessential travel, or a level 2 warning to practice enhanced precautions while traveling. The list of countries with travel notices, as well as the level of a country’s notice, may change quickly.
If you are ill, avoid travel. Be prepared to cancel non-essential travel and monitor alerts as the situation changes.