Coronavirus: Steps to stay safe

Coronavirus: Steps to stay safe

Coronavirus is spreading quickly. More than 100,000 cases have now been reported in at least 90 countries, including hundreds in the U.S. And we are now seeing what's called "community spread" in the U.S. That means the original source of the infection is not clear.

One example is in King County, Washington, where a major outbreak has been linked to a nursing home.

It's hard to know just how widespread the virus is in America, partly because there have not been enough test kits available here. The FDA announced Friday that the supply of those kits is quickly ramping up.

For now, health officials are saying the average American is still at low risk, but that could change.

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So, we'll remind you how you can protect yourself:

  1. Wash your hands;
  2. If you have to sneeze or cough, use your elbow or tissues, and keep your hands away from your face. Easier said than done, I know;
  3. If you're sick, whether it's coronavirus or something else, don't go to work. I know the financial loss can be tough, and that's something we have to address as a society;
  4. And remember, if you are having symptoms typical for a cold, you may just have ... a cold. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, a cough, and shortness of breath; if you get those, you should consult a clinician, but again, keep in mind other illnesses have similar symptoms;
  5. If you think you may have coronavirus, don't show up unannounced at an emergency room where you could infect others. Check first with your healthcare provider, who can alert the E.R. to be ready for you with proper protective gear; and
  6. Follow the advice of your state or local health department, especially if you've been exposed and are asked to self-quarantine. 
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Another term we're starting to hear is "social distancing." It means staying away from others during this outbreak, especially in places where the virus has already shown up.

This is all uncharted territory for us in America, and we're seeing a wide variety of approaches to dealing with the virus, everything from cutting back on unnecessary travel, to canceling conventions and other big gatherings, to working from home.

And here's some good news: Most reported cases, about 80%, have been mild, and children have been relatively spared from severe infection.

The bad news is the elderly and people with serious underlying illnesses, like lung disease or weakened immune systems, are especially vulnerable. So, they should be very cautious, especially if coronavirus is spreading in their community. The CDC suggests those at high risk should stay at home as much as possible, keep away from sick people, and avoid crowds.

It's also a good idea to have several weeks of medications and supplies on hand in case you do need to stay at home for an extended period of time.

One last thought: Coronavirus began in China, and a dangerous side effect has been a wave of anti-Asian racism. As a nation, we've endured wars, tough financial times, all kinds of challenges. Right now, we need to be patient, positive, and proactive ... and we need to be kind to each other. Doctor's orders!

      
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Story produced by Kim Young. Editor: David Bhagat.

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  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for CBS News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook