The coronavirus is not the Zombie Apocalypse.
That’s what April Achter, MPH Population Health Coordinator for the Rappahannock/Rapidan Health District, told last week’s Healthy Culpeper gathering in explaining how the pandemic, which started late last year in China, will affect the area over the next few weeks and months.
“Our water supply should not be affected … we have no reason to believe our electricity will go out,” she said. “You need to get enough supplies to last you for a few days, but we don’t want to overreact. We want to prepare and we want to be calm.”
Achter gave her speech in the middle of the week. Just 48 hours later, toilet paper, milk and meat were hard to find in stores throughout the country.
She also explained why the next two weeks will be critical in keeping the virus in check. As of Thursday morning, 114 people in the U.S. — including two in Virginia — have died from coronavirus.
“Usually there’s an incubation that ranges anywhere from two to 14 days,” Achter said. “Most people, if they get symptoms, will get them in about five days. Usually for this particular virus, it’s fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“This particular virus affects those who are over age 50 more often … The estimates are is that 80% of people who get this virus will have mild symptoms,” she noted. “Just like most of us who will get a common cold will ache for a couple of days and then will go back about our business; 80% will have mild disease (symptoms).
“This particular virus has a (severity) higher index than influence,” Achter said. “We expect about 13% of people to have severe disease; that means they might require oxygen. We expect about 6% of people will have critical disease; and that means they might require mechanical ventilation in a hospital setting.”
She added that the Rappahannock/Rapidan Health District has been following up with those it knows have recently traveled to coronavirus hot spots. It’s even getting in touch with those who haven’t notified health officials about their travels “… because their neighbors are ratting them out.”
“We follow those we know, otherwise we follow the global messaging: ‘If you have returned from this area you need to monitor yourself for this illness for 14 days,” Achter said. “Every effort is to make this a volunteer process. … If that does not work out, we have steps in place to make it a mandatory quarantine.
“When a disease is reported to us or by that patient, we isolate them. Isolation means you go home, you don’t pass Go, you don’t collect your $200,” she said. “Public health calls you and identifies what we call your close contacts. Do you share an office, do you share an office at work? Do you have a workout partner? Those are the people then, for this disease, we are putting into quarantine. Isolation is the separation of sick people. Quarantine is the separation of well but expose. And the quarantine for this disease is 14 days. That’s two full weeks because that is the length of the incubation period.”
The goal of all these measures is to keep the virus from overloading the healthcare system.
“We simply do not have a lot of surge capacity in our healthcare system,” Achter said. “The concern is that if everyone gets sick at the same time we will struggle to meet the demands of our community.
“The second concern is that if everyone is going to the hospital because they are concerned they have the coronavirus, even if they have mild symptoms, it will create a surge that will keep folks who are there with an injury or infection or whatever else needs urgent evaluation from getting care in a timely manner,” she said. “If you have mild symptoms, you do not need an emergency department visit. The decision to go the emergency room should always be based on symptoms, regardless of cause. If you have symptoms that are concerning, go to the ED where you think you have coronavirus or the flu or anything else.
“We’re trying to flatten the [exponential] curve,” Achter said. “What that means is that even we think coronavirus will come, we think it will impact our community, if we can slow it down it is much better for everyone in our community. Because slowing it down means we spread out the demand on our resources. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
She added that people can keep with the latest news and advisories regarding coronavirus by visiting virginia.gov or the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District at rrhd.org. People can also call 1-877-ASK-VDH3 (1-877-275-8343) for general questions.
“I can’t stress this enough,” Achter said, “go to reputable sites for information.”