The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, more formally known as COVID-19, has impacted daily life in Los Angeles County, Southern California, and the rest of the world in ways few of us anticipated when the virus first started to make national headlines in early in 2020.
Dr. Michael Farzam and House Call Doctor Los Angeles have been monitoring this rapidly evolving situation, looking at information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other reputable sources. It should be noted that research on COVID-19 is actively in progress and new information is being published regularly.
What is COVID-19 and what are its symptoms?
Despite the hugely dramatic and, for many of us, unexpected nature of this public health crisis, viruses from the coronavirus family are not new to the scientific and medical world. In fact, this family of viruses comprises many strains of mostly minor respiratory infections, including varying iterations of the common cold. However, the global reach and scale of COVID-19, which is believed to have originated in the province of Hubei, China as early as November of 2019, is the focal point of concern for governments and media around the world. It is important to note that, while it might look and feel somewhat similar to a common cold or flu for people with mild cases, it is in no way “just the flu.” Indeed, it is more or less an entirely different species of virus. It’s a new sickness and unexpected impacts are being found in rare but notable instances.
The disease’s primary symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness such as coughing, sore throat, fever, fatigue, and, especially in more urgent cases, difficulty breathing. Additional symptoms include lost sense of smell, gastrointestinal concerns, headache, and even swelling, rashes, and inflammation of the toes in some cases. However, while specific numbers appear to vary by county, state, and country, asymptomatic cases –– cases where the individual experiences no symptoms –– are believed to outnumber cases that require hospitalization.
This new strain –– hence the term “novel coronavirus” to distinguish from older already endemic viruses –– is responsible for the outbreak that has spread throughout the world. While the virus is often mentioned in the same breath as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and it even has “SARS” in its extended medical name, it is only distantly related to the infamous illness which emerged in China in 2002. That illness was a great deal more deadly but, partly for that very reason, its spread was slower and it was far easier to contain.
This strain is still considered new so epidemiologists are uncertain of the actual mortality rate associated with the COVID-19 virus. Sadly, however, while the great majority of people who get it recover, it is clear that the lethality has turned out to be worse than many of us initially anticipated and it is far worse than a common seasonal flu. We do know that this illness is dangerous particularly for elderly patients or those with preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes. While death has occurred too often in cases not fitting these parameters, fatalities occurring in individuals younger than 60 have proven to be the exception rather than the rule, and cases among children are very rare though, sadly, not nonexistent.
For comparison, the death rate is notably higher than even some of the stronger seasonal flu viruses experienced in recent years but is not expected to be as devastating as the 1918 Flu Pandemic which tended to kill younger healthy individuals. Of course, the world situation and the state of medical care before the development of antibiotics were enormously different during the waning days of World War I.
Why are Tactics Such as Social Distancing and “Lockdowns” Being Employed?
COVID-19 is very highly contagious and is believed to have the ability to survive on surfaces for extended periods. There is no way to know at this point if anyone has a true immunity to the disease and we know that the vast majority of people have no immunity at all. This has made the strain difficult to contain, especially in settings with infected patients such as nursing homes, and is the likeliest factor in the disease’s rapid spread. Ironically, the relatively low level of mortality and the number of very mild cases is undoubtedly causing the disease to spread more quickly. Indeed, many people who have COVID-19 likely assume they have an ordinary cold or may not feel sick at all, very possibly spreading the illness as they go about their day if they behave as if things are normal. For this very reason, abiding by stay-at-home orders and wearing masks are of the utmost importance in regards to protecting your community as well yourself and your loved ones.
Currently, public health officials are working hard to contain the virus to continue to avoid a situation in which public health systems could become overwhelmed by an enormous number of complications arising at the same time. While progress has been made, this is still a very serious matter that has the potential to continue for some time until a vaccine is produced and later distributed.
What is the State of the Coronavirus in Southern California and Nationwide?
As of this writing and according to officially released numbers, COVID-19 has infected over 5,000,000 people –– that’s half a billion –– worldwide and it is on track to kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. While there have been many cases in California, including Los Angeles and Orange County, as of this writing, our state has avoided the deadly situations that occurred in places like New York and Italy, and positive progress has been made. This can be credited to the very strong “safer at home” measures that have been instituted in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and most of the state’s other population centers. As measures to reopen begin, there are many questions left to be answered as of this writing.
How can I best protect myself against COVID-19?
At present, the best course of action is to follow all measures enacted by state and local governments. Right now, this includes staying at home except to leave for essential errands, wearing face masks when you leave your home, and staying at least six feet away from all other people when venturing outside. Even when sanctions are lifted, great caution should be exercised.
Frequent handwashing, cleaning commonly used surfaces inside the home, and remaining isolated when sick with any respiratory illness can lower the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Also, as always, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of rest and good nutrition has the potential to lower your risk of contracting an illness. Also, watch out for excess stress. If news about the pandemic and other matters is causing undue anxiety, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break with your favorite type of entertainment or hobbies.
While it may be some time before a vaccine appears and can be safely distributed, rest assured that there are dozens of universities, private healthcare companies, governments, and NGOs around the world working to find new vaccines for COVID-19.
What About Some of the Cures and Treatments We Have Been Hearing About?
We’ll keep this simple. No matter what you may hear from any public figures or advertisements, do not take any treatments for COVID-19 without consulting your physician. No exceptions. Untested treatments may be far more dangerous to your health than the actual virus.
What should I do now?
Stay updated with information provided by the CDC as well as reliable media sources such as major newspapers and television networks, both local and national. In the event of a spike or even a serious escalation –– which is still possible –– public health and government officials will issue additional advisories, which should provide reliable guidance on how to stay safe and limit further spread of the illness.
Remember that panicking is never helpful and the odds of actually becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19 are still small if you are not in a high-risk group, especially if you observe public ordinances on the matter. If you should come down with symptoms of a respiratory virus, rest, relax, and avoid all contact with others. In most cases, that should be sufficient but it is important to seek medical attention when necessary. Also, Los Angeles City and County are offering free, drive-through testing through healthcare providers to anyone who wants it, whether or not they are symptomatic. This is partly to collect public health data so, even if you’re not infected, you’re helping out if you get the test. Consult your healthcare provider.
When should I see a doctor?
If a viral illness persists or if symptoms worsen quickly and appear to be consistent with COVID-19, then it is time to contact a doctor. Using a house call doctor may provide added peace of mind as well as convenience. In the event of a serious epidemic or pandemic, avoiding crowded emergency rooms may be especially advisable.
If you are concerned about a viral illness or any other health issues, contact House Call Doctor Los Angeles by calling the number on your screen or visiting our contact page.