HARLINGEN –As government agencies and local health departments discuss large scale measures to slow the rate of Coronavirus infections in the United States, local health officials are promoting a simple but effective way to help prevent the risk of exposure to the virus.
The concept, dubbed “social distancing,” encourages maintaining a space of six feet between individuals whenever possible. Since one of the methods Coronavirus can spread is via respiratory droplets expelled from an infected person, social distancing can help keep healthy individuals from being exposed to those particles.
“These tiny droplets of water are released from our mouth when we exhale, cough, and sneeze,” said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist-Harlingen. “However, they are only able to travel a certain distance, and their concentration in the air decreases significantly as distance increases. Being six feet away from each other can greatly reduce the risk of these tiny droplets that can contain virus particles from spreading from person to person.”
Romero said that as healthcare providers continue to assess and adapt to the COVID-19 situation, the community can play a major role in those efforts by practicing simple activities such like social distancing.
“For now we do not have an FDA-approved medication to treat COVID-19 or a vaccine to prevent the infection in the first place,” he said. “Until we have those tools to combat this virus, prevention is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our community.”
Romero said that things like hand washing, limiting travel, staying away from others when you are sick, and social distancing can help protect the vulnerable members of our community, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
“Many people who become infected with COVID-19 may not even know they are spreading the virus before they develop symptoms, or may experience mild symptoms that they believe are a more minor infection,” he said. “If they are not careful and take appropriate precautions such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, they may spread the infection to those who can develop more serious infections, or even die from COVID-19.”
Although social distancing is a means to combat exposure to Coronavirus, Romero warned against gathering in large groups, even if distance between individuals is maintained since the virus can be spread through means other than respiratory exposure.
“While social distancing certainly reduces the spread of infection, it does not eliminate it,” he said. “The virus is also spread by exposure to contaminated objects that others may touch as well, such as door knobs, sink handles, utensils, and many other common surfaces. Now that COVID-19 has been identified in our community, it is up to all of us to do everything we can to reduce its spread, including postponing social gatherings.”
When unable to practice effective social distancing, such as when venturing to the grocery store, Romero said there are steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.
“This is where washing your hands frequently comes into play,” he said. “Also, use sanitation wipes on shared items such as shopping carts when available, and avoid touching your face.”
While measures such as social distancing and shelter in place notices from county officials may seem like over-reactions, Romero said such steps are necessary and vital to help end the COVID-19 situation as soon as possible.
“In this challenging time, it’s important for us all to not only be concerned about our well-being, but for the well-being of those in our community who are most vulnerable,” He said. “If you are young and healthy you may feel invincible to threats like COVID-19. But even young people can get dangerously ill, and also act as carriers and spread the infection to others. None of us should feel shy about telling others to stay away or not visit us if they are sick. The more we reduce the spread of COVID-19, the sooner this pandemic will be over for all of us.”
1. Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
2. Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
3. Avoid touching your face.
4. Keep six feet away from people who are potentially sick.
5. Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
6. If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.
7. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (www.CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/).