This story was published on Monday, March 9. For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 in Oklahoma, visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the OKC-County Health Department or your county health department. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has a call center that can be reached at 877-215-8336. For a round up of local resources, read our article filled with important information, community closings and more.
As the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has skyrocketed from a virtual unknown to pandemic status with thousands of deaths reported across the globe, anxieties are running high, internationally and here at home. On Friday, March 6, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced the first confirmed of COVID-19 in the state. Even before that announcement, in the metro, shelves in many stores have been wiped bare of hand sanitizer and disinfectant. My own daughter comes home from school every day worried about “reports” gleaned from her second grade classmates, sure she’s likely to contract the virus at any moment.
So, is it time to panic? Experts say no. But it is important to be vigilant.
What you need to know: The immediate health risk from COVID-19 low and most people in the United States have little immediate risk of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eddie Withers, epidemiologist for the OKC-County Health Department and dad of two, warned just hours before the announcement of a positive case in Oklahoma on March 6 that Oklahomans should be prepared for the virus to reach our state. Even so, Withers says he is not worried because for the majority of the population, symptoms are mild.
The CDC reports there is no evidence to suggest kids are more likely to get the virus, and in most cases, kids’ symptoms have been mild. Dr. Erica Faulconer, pediatrician with Northwest Pediatrics in Oklahoma City and mom of three, likens potential kids’ symptoms to those of the flu.
Though there is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 nor medications approved to treat it, the best way to protect against the virus is taking the same precautions your family employs to protect against colds and the flu.
FAQs about COVID-19:
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms reported include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure. Faulconer likens symptoms to the flu in terms of typical severity. The key differentiator between cold or flu symptoms and COVID-19 appears to be shortness of breath, according to Withers.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 spread from person-to-person happens similarly to how the flu spreads. When a sick person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can infect those individuals who are in close contact with that person. It’s not clear if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
Faulconer says COVID-19 appears to be about as contagious as the flu. Every person with the flu tends to infect, on average, 2.5 people, and so far COVID-19 is the same. For reference, a person with the measles tends to infect 18 other people.
Is my family at risk?
For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to COVID-19, the CDC reports the immediate health risk is low. According to the CDC, the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high, to the United States and globally.
Should we cancel our Spring Break vacations?
The CDC has provided risk assessment by country, which may be helpful to review regarding travel plans. The Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Department of Health released the following statement on March 9 regarding Oklahoma families’ Spring Break travel: “Individuals returning from travel to China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Japan or any other Level 2 or 3 country as identified by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should self-quarantine for a period of 14 days before returning to school. This applies to all students, teachers, and other school or district staff.”
Are kids more susceptible to the coronavirus?
No. The CDC reports there is no evidence that kids are more likely to get COVID-19, and in fact most cases reported from China have been in adults. Limited reports in China of children with the virus have presented with cold-like symptoms, fever, runny nose and cough. The CDC suggests children have generally presented with mild symptoms. Severe complications, though reported, appear to be uncommon.
As with other respiratory illnesses, some children, like those with underlying health issues, may be at increased risk of severe infection. Falconer says kids who are immunocompromised or those with underlying respiratory issues, like asthma, can be affected more seriously. Withers, whose own children have situational asthma, encourages parents whose kids have underlying medical issues to be vigilant in keeping them home when they aren’t feeling well and calling their medical provider immediately if a cough or shortness of breath develops.
What about pregnant women?
The CDC doesn’t have scientific reports about the susceptibility or adverse pregnancy outcome of COVID-19 for pregnant women. Because of their changing bodies, pregnant women may be more susceptible to viral respiratory infections like COVID-19. The risk of adverse outcomes for infants is not known; neither is the ability of a mother with the virus to pass it to her baby before, during or after delivery. In limited case studies, infants born to mothers with coronavirus did not test positive for the virus, and neither did the mother’s amniotic fluid nor breastmilk.
Who is most susceptible?
The elderly, immunocompromised and individuals with underlying health issues are more susceptible to infection than the general population, according to Faulconer. She says those most susceptible right now are individuals who have been traveling internationally, especially to areas where community spread is occurring, AND who have fever, cough and congestion AND who have had close contact with someone who is ill with COVID-19, not just those who have been directly or indirectly exposed.
People in communities where ongoing community spread of COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated though still relatively low risk of exposure. Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 and those who have been in close contact with people with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure. Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring are at elevated risk of exposure.
How do I protect my family?
Follow the same precautions you normally would during cold and flu season. Avoid close contact, especially with people who are sick and stay home when you are sick, too. Kids who have fevers should not go to school or out in public, says Faulconer.
According to the CDC, flu and other respiratory illnesses are most often spread by cough, sneezing or unclean hands. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, preferably into a tissue that can immediately be tossed or into your arm rather than hand, and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands. Withers encourages parents to be vigilant in teaching kids to cough and sneeze into their arms.
Disinfect frequently touched surfaces like door knobs and light switches. All disinfectants are not created equally, and Faulconer recommends Clorox or Lysol products for the most thorough expulsion of viruses and bacteria.
The CDC recommends ensuring children are up to date on vaccinations, including for flu. Above all else, wash hands frequently. There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 nor medications approved to treat it.
Are hand washing and using sanitizers equal?
No. To prevent illness and the spread of germs, washing hands with soap and water is best. While sanitizers can quickly reduce germs on the hands, they do not get rid of all types of germs. When choosing a sanitizer, the CDC recommends those that are at least 60 percent alcohol.
And if you think you know how to wash your hands properly, think again! The World Health Organization says you should be able to sing “Happy Birthday” twice during a thorough hand washing, which requires enough soap to cover hands completely; washing palms, backs of hands, between fingers and thumbs; complete rinse and dry and turning off the faucet with a towel, not your hand. Use sanitizer when hand washing isn’t an option, using a similar method of covering all parts of the hands and rubbing until dry.
Do we need to wear masks when out in public?
No. Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Dr. Stephen Prescott says masks haven’t been shown to guard against droplet infection. And, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, you can actually increase your chances of contracting the virus if you don’t know how to properly wear a mask (because wearers’ often touch their face, nose and mouth repeatedly, increasing their risk of infection). Find World Health Organization tips for when and how to wear a mask here. Plus, when you buy masks you don’t really need, you decrease the supply for medical professionals who do, putting those professionals at greater risk.
How do I explain coronavirus to my kids?
Give your kids the facts, especially because they may have heard wildly inaccurate rumors, and explain the importance of getting information from trusted sources like county departments of health or the CDC. Ask what questions they have, and if you’re unsure of the answers, turn to those expert sources together. Explain how unlikely it is that your kids or family will contract the virus, or even come in contact with someone who has the virus, but do give them actionable tips on keeping your family healthy, like frequent hand washing, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and avoiding touching their faces. Withers says even if your kids aren’t asking about the coronavirus it’s important to initiate a conversation because the likelihood they have — or will — hear about it is strong.
What do I do if I think I have — or my kids have — COVID-19?
Stay home and call your doctor’s office. Faulconer says to be sure to explain your concerns to the doctor’s office as, like hers, general physicians’ offices may not want you to simply come in and risk infection of others in the waiting room. Accommodations would be made to lower the risk to others. Withers says your doctor’s office will want to review your symptoms thoroughly to determine whether you should be tested. Results take two to three days, so it’s important to remain at home and limit contact with others until results are confirmed.
At this time, metro venues are monitoring the rapidly evoling situation to ensure public safety concerns are addressed appropriately. The health and safety of Oklahoma families is of utmost importance and many museums and other organizations have responded with increase cleaning and disinfectant measures. We are closely following updates on closures and we encourage families to call specific venues for the most up-to-date information.