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Keeping Safe In The COVID-19 Pandemic
It’s hard to believe that over a year has gone by since the first case of COVID-19 appeared in the United States. Sometimes I think about how fast this year has passed, while other times I feel like I have aged decades in just a matter of 12 months.
When the pandemic first started, public health officials recommended several measures to keep everyone safe and to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19. Interestingly, many of these preventive measures were implemented during the 1918 Influenza pandemic as well. Additionally, these tried-and-true measures have up-to-date studies that show that they work at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Tips to safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Wear a mask.
One of the constant messages echoed all around the world has been to wear a mask. Masks can help decrease the spread of respiratory droplets, which have been found to be the primary source of COVID-19 spread or transmission. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines about proper mask wearing (visit cdc.gov for more information). As COVID-19 continues to mutate, new variants have arisen which have made it easier for the virus to spread and to cause infection. Fortunately, certain types of masks can still work to protect us against the spread of COVID-19.
The most important criteria to consider when choosing what type of mask to wear is to make sure the mask fits properly or snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps noted around the sides of the face.2 The mask should be made of tightly woven, breathable fabric such as cotton, which has been shown to be effective at decreasing the spread of respiratory droplets.2 A helpful tip to ensure that the mask is tightly woven is to hold it up against a light source to see if light passes through. If the mask appears transparent enough to see light passing through it, the fabric is not considered tightly woven. Additionally, the mask should be two or three layers and may contain an inner filter pocket, which would hold disposable filters to further protect against transmission of respiratory droplets. Medical procedure or surgical masks can also be worn alternatively or in combination with cloth masks.
Practice Social Distancing.
Social distancing, also known as physical distancing, is another public health measure that has been shown to decrease the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends staying at least six feet apart (or about two arm lengths away) from other people who are not a part of an individual’s household.
But why is social distancing recommended? COVID-19 is a respiratory virus spread through respiratory droplets that are produced when a person talks, coughs or sneezes. If someone who is infected with COVID-19 stands less than six feet away from another person for a long period of time (>10-15 minutes), respiratory droplets that are produced can travel through the air and land on the non-infected person.3 These droplets can then be inhaled into the lungs and cause infection.3 Recent studies have shown that approximately 50% of persons infected with COVID-19 remain asymptomatic (i.e., without symptoms), which further emphasizes the need to practice social distancing in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Avoid Crowds and Indoor Gatherings.
Although this public health measure should fall into the same category as practicing social distancing, it is a measure that needs to be greatly emphasized. As we continue to chug through the winter months, it remains important to avoid indoor gatherings with persons who are not a part of your personal household. With indoor gatherings comes the increased risk for COVID-19 spread. Particularly of concern is the risk of indoor gatherings in locations with poor ventilation. Along with indoor gatherings, getting together or mingling in crowds can increase the risk of exposure to someone with COVID-19.
Get the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Unlike during the 1918 Influenza pandemic, when there was no influenza vaccine available, scientists have been able to develop the COVID-19 vaccine to help us in the fight to end this pandemic. As of right now, there are two vaccines that are currently available in the United States by FDA-approval for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) – the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Both vaccines have been shown to have very high vaccine efficacy despite the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.5,6 Additionally, these vaccines have been shown to protect against both severe disease and COVID-related deaths.5,6 As the vaccine rollout continues, it is important to get vaccinated when you become eligible for it as long as you have no contraindications (visit cdc.gov for more information). If you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to discuss these concerns with your personal healthcare provider.
There are several ways that we can protect ourselves against COVID-19. It is important to all of us to work together and to follow public health guidelines to ensure we remain safe and to ensure that we can put an end to the pandemic.
Avi Varma, MD. Avi Varma is a family medicine physician practicing in Atlanta, Georgia. Outside of caring for patients in the underserved communities of Atlanta with HIV/AIDS, she spends her time with her three-year-old daughter and a five-year-old husky. Avi uses her social media platform to talk about various topics including medicine, motherhood and mental health. Her goal is to share her personal stories, in hopes that others can gain the strength to share their own personal struggles and triumphs. Follow her @dr.avivarma on Instagram.
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