A message from Dr. Aaron Rosenberg, Chief Medical Officer, DO, MBA
A message from Dr. Aaron Rosenberg, Chief Medical Officer, DO, MBA
As a father, husband, son, and co-worker, it is important for me to protect my family, the Genworth family and my community. Education and awareness are key. The following provides answers to some questions that can help keep you informed.
The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China continues to rapidly evolve. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, a public health emergency of international concern. On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising people to be prepared for disruptions to daily life that will be necessary if the coronavirus spreads within our communities. This global event is the subject of concern within our Genworth family and within our broader communities. That is why Genworth is taking proactive steps to share the best sources of information to inform and protect our employees, policy-holders and our communities.
Below, we are responding to frequently asked questions raised about COVID-19 with direct links to reliable sources of updates and information.
How does COVID-19 spread?
According to the CDC, Person-to-Person Spread occurs through droplets from our respiratory tract. These droplets are produced by coughs and sneezes of infected individuals. The virus is found within respiratory droplets and can be breathed in or land on surfaces that others touch. It may be possible to transmit the virus by touching a surface that has the virus and then touching our own mouths or noses.
Can people who are asymptomatic spread COVID-19?
Yes. According to the CDC, “some spread might be possible before people show symptoms.” However, people are thought to be most contagious when they show symptoms.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends we all Watch for Symptoms of COVID-19 virus. Symptoms generally include fever, cough and shortness of breath and may occur anywhere from 2-14 days following exposure. However, there has been a range of presentations that include asymptomatic or mild cases, and those that are severe. A small but significant percent of cases result in critical illness and even death.
Who is most at risk?
The CDC has identified Who is at Higher Risk as older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease. According to the CDC, early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.
As we age, our immune system changes making it harder for our body to fight off infection. Our heart, lungs and respiratory system also change as we age. Aging and especially pre-existing lung disease can mean less reserve available when our body is under stress of an infection. That is why the CDC is recommending that people at higher risk take the following actions now:
- Avoid crowds and stay at home as much as possible.
- Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications, food, and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
- When you go out in public, keep about 6 feet away from others who are sick, limit close contact, and wash your hands often.
- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
- Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.
What can I do to prepare?
The CDC offers the best information on what you can do now to Protect Yourself and Your Family. This includes steps to prepare your home, protect your health and what to do if you are sick. Everyday health tips include cleaning and thoroughly drying your hands often and avoiding crowds. Keep surfaces disinfected. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home.
What about wearing a face mask to protect against COVID-19?
Follow all local public health guidance. Currently face masks are not recommended for the general public in the US. The World Health Organization’s Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Advice For the Public: When and How to use Masks states “if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection” or if “you are coughing or sneezing” to protect others. The CDC offers more information on Understanding the Difference between surgical masks and respirator masks.
What about my travel plans?
Follow all travel advisories from regulatory agencies and understand that the COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly changing global event. The CDC maintains Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel which currently has several levels of travel risk assessment based upon the destination country.
The CDC also maintains advice on COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel. “Cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.” As of 3/13/20, the CDC has advised all older adults and travelers with underlying health issues defer all cruise ship travel now.
Continue to check the travel advisories set forth by the CDC and other Government agencies as they are being updated regularly.
What is the risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane if I am not going to a high-risk country?
According to the CDC’s frequently asked questions for travelers, “air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes. Travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contain 60%–95% alcohol.” That said, if you have a fever, cough or respiratory symptoms, you should not travel.
How many people have COVID-19 and how many people are thought to have died from the disease?
This is a rapidly evolving event and numbers are changing daily. Within the United States, the CDC maintains an updated page of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. which includes the cases, deaths and jurisdictions that have reported cases in the US. Internationally, the WHO maintains a global dashboard that is updated daily on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation.
Why is COVID-19 considered more dangerous than seasonal influenza since there were over 50,000 deaths in the US from flu last year?
The CDC reports Deaths and Mortality for the leading causes of death in the US. Seasonal influenza is one of the leading causes of death in the US. COVID-19 deaths, to-date, in the US pale in comparison to seasonal flu. To many public health officials, that is exactly the point. We know the flu is a leading cause of death. However, if we could stop the flu completely, we would. There still may be a chance to stop COVID-19. In many ways, what we have seen from the flu is the best argument for doing everything to stop COVID-19 now. We do not want another flu.
Generally, the seasonal flu kills about 0.1% of those it infects. There have been years when the flu has killed more. In 1918, the “Spanish Flu” killed around 2%. While we do not yet have a clear picture of the death rate of COVID-19, we strongly suspect it is several multiples of the 0.1% death rate seen in most years of the seasonal flu. In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the death rate is estimated at 1.4% (14 times higher than the typical seasonal flu).
COVID-19 also appears to be more contagious than the flu. We measure contagious infections by a math term called R0 (pronounced “R naught”). R0 tells you the average number of people that catch the disease from one contagious person. We know that each person with seasonal flu spreads the disease to about 1.3 other people. Each person with COVID-19 appears to infect almost twice that number with an R0 of 2.2.
COVID-19 is also more dangerous because there is no approved treatment or vaccine available currently. For the seasonal flu, we have 4 prescription antiviral treatments and a highly effective seasonal vaccine.
Finally, we know that the flu is seasonal. That is, it generally retreats during the warmer months. We do not yet know if the same pattern will emerge from COVID-19.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19? Should I go to an ER, urgent care clinic or family doctor’s office or somewhere else?
The CDC has a detailed guide on what to do if you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect that you may be infected with the virus. This information can be found on the CDC website.
The success of any response to a public health threat is dependent upon all of us. Let’s understand this disease and do our part by closely following the reliable sources of guidance and updates on this emerging global event.