A patient who may be the first U.S. community-transmitted case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is being treated at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. According to the UC Davis Medical Center, the patient was transferred from another hospital several days ago and is a resident of Solano County.
UC Davis pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Dean Blumberg joined Insight guest host Randol White this morning to discuss coronavirus and what you should know about it.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
On issues with testing for coronavirus
The testing has really been limited from the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. They've had very strict criteria, and many physicians and health care providers have been wanting to test for more widespread transmission. So we're hopeful that more widespread testing will be available soon, so that we can get an idea of how far this virus has reached into the community, who's getting infected and who's at risk.
On how worried people should be
To put this in perspective, I would say it's somewhere in between panic and nonchalance. On the one hand, the reason that there's so much concern is that this is a novel virus and nobody's ever been exposed to it before. That means everybody is susceptible to infection with it. If you come in contact with somebody who is symptomatic and transmitting this virus, you're most likely to get infected. So that's the scary part.
Now, the part that's reassuring is the vast majority of people who do get infected with this virus are mildly symptomatic, or might even be asymptomatic. Most people will have a cold and they will recover. So far, it's been reported that about 20% of patients have more severe disease and about 2% of patients are dying. That's very concerning, but I believe that those numbers are probably lower than that, and that we're not detecting mild or asymptomatic disease. So when we do start doing more widespread testing, those numbers are going to drop.
On how the coronavirus spreads
It's transmitted by coughing or sneezing ... primarily by droplet transmission, meaning the droplets are relatively large, and will only be airborne for about six feet after somebody coughs or sneezes. So if you're farther away from somebody than six feet, the chances of getting infected when they cough and sneeze are really low. Those droplets can contaminate surfaces. And so if you do touch contaminated surfaces and then touch your face, you can get transmission that way too. And that's why we're recommending frequent hand washing…
I think for coworkers, if you're sick, don't go to work. Be nice to your coworkers: Don't go to work and don't go to school. Stay home. If you do touch frequently touch surfaces such as gas pumps, door handles shopping carts, you don't know where that person's hands have been. So yeah, I do recommend washing your hands. And personally, I always carry around some alcohol hand gel.
On whether workers or visitors to the UC Davis Medical Center should be concerned
Not at all. No. The infection prevention program at UC Davis is robust and completely on top of this. The patient has been isolated appropriately from the get go. There's no chance of transmission to other patients or visitors to the Medical Center.
On the anxiety around coronavirus
Some people are anxious about many different things in life, and so people have to put that into perspective. I can tell you, if you put it into perspective, we've had more than 16,000 deaths in the U.S. already this season from influenza ... so I would be worried about that. And yet we know that the overall vaccination rate against influenza in the U.S. is about 50% every year. So a lot of times, logic doesn't really take over and people are very fearful and they still don't do the right thing to protect themselves.