November 17, 2019 marks the date of China’s first confirmed COVID-19 case. Four months later, the Coronavirus has become a global outbreak. As the world continually adapts to the developments of the Coronavirus, we must remember that even though most of us feel unsafe, isolated, and worried, we are facing this threat together. As a community, we will survive the uncertainty, illness, and financial distress caused by this pandemic. We have done it before and we will do it again — we will rise above COVID-19.
What is Coronavirus: Symptoms and Risks
COVID-19, which is a specific type of Coronavirus, is a respiratory disease known for its flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, dry cough, tiredness, trouble breathing, and other respiratory issues like pneumonia. It is spread primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. As the illness continues to cause uncertainty and fear, we remain vigilant in our efforts to contain its spreading hence social distancing efforts. That vigilance starts with knowledge.
The most at-risk are those who have recently traveled internationally, particularly to affected countries, as well as older adults, and those of any age with a serious underlying condition or compromised immune systems. If you recently traveled from an area dealing with the spread of COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms, be sure to consult your local provider by phone. In fact, it is best not to show up at an emergency room, urgent care center, or doctor’s office without first calling. You do not want to risk getting the virus if you do not have it. You also do not want to spread it to others if you do. Many cities, including here in Pittsburgh, have designated testing sites in place since the emergency room is not utilized to test for the virus itself; it is used for treating severe symptoms possibly related to the illness.
If you traveled internationally but still aren’t experiencing symptoms, it is best practice to self-quarantine for two weeks. During this time, as a community, we can all take some basic steps, including social distancing, to ensure the safety of one another. For starters, only leave your home for necessities such as food and medication. Keeping our distance away from others by at least 6 feet is one of the easiest ways to slow the spread of the disease. But remember, social distancing does not mean social isolation; there are steps to counter the loneliness of social distancing.
Healthcare: The Front Lines of Prevention
The healthcare community has convened like never before, working hard to prevent further spreading. Here, UPMC has taken a leadership role, developing a test for COVID-19 to significantly shorten the time it takes to get from suspected case to diagnosis. After all, UPMC is known for its medical innovation. UPMC is where Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine. Moreover, Dr. Thomas Starzl pioneered the first liver transplant surgery. Both of these historical developments position UPMC well for making groundbreaking advances to test for (and soon treat) the novel coronavirus.
“Developing this test for a never-before-seen virus in the midst of a pandemic was a tremendous challenge, even for our academic medical center with its long history of such developments,” said Alan Wells, M.D., D.M.Sc., Medical Director of the UPMC Clinical Laboratories.
Donald Yealy, M.D., Chair of Emergency Medicine for UPMC and Pitt said, “By creating our own test and collection centers, we can both help our patients and the overall community. We seek getting a diagnosis in hours, not days.”
On April 2, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists briefed the public on a new COVID-19 candidate vaccine. The vaccine is applied like a Band-Aid, doesn’t require refrigeration, and lends itself to the massive scale of production required to rapidly tackle a global pandemic. The study appears in The Lancet’s EBioMedicine, and is the first peer-reviewed paper describing a candidate vaccine for COVID-19
Around the country, many others have been making strides against the continued spread of COVID-19, including state and federal government officials. Pennsylvania has instituted a Stay at Home Order in 22 counties effective until April 6, 2020. During this time, individuals must refrain from leaving their homes unless leaving for essential activities or working a life-essential position. Governor Gavin Newsom of California announced he was directing more than $42 million in emergency funding to expand the state’s healthcare system as the virus spread.
Community: “Look for the Helpers”
Like Mister Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And that statement has proven true.
All Pittsburgh public schools are offering meals to those who depend on their breakfast and lunch programs. Meals can be picked up between 11:00a.m. and 1:00p.m. Monday through Friday. The Pittsburgh Port Authority is offering reimbursements to riders who have been staying home due to COVID-19. For other resources, check out this link for other support programs during this time.
Many people, particularly in the service industry, have also lost jobs. An easy way to support service workers in Pittsburgh is through the Virtual Tip Jar. With the closing of non-essential businesses, many are left without a steady income. The link allows for service workers relying on these funds to publicly place their banking apps such as Venmo or PayPal to directly accept tips.
We may not know what comes next, but we do know that we are all in this together. We have made it through other health scares and pandemics. Look back to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002. SARS arrived with no vaccines or medicine and had a higher mortality rate. More recently, we experienced the spreading of H1N1, known as Swine Flu in 2009. Within a year, we had the crisis under control.
As a city and a country, and a global community, we will rise above COVID-19. As with past epidemics, we can always analyze one thing. People come together in times of need as we have and will continue to do to defeat COVID19.