What’s Social Distancing? Flattening the Curve? Your Covid-19 Questions, Answered.

1. What is social distancing?

Aside from being good news for introverts, social distancing is a public health tactic that helps communities slow down the transmission and spread of contagious illnesses like the coronavirus. Research has shown that in urban areas and regions where a disease is spreading, taking measures like working from home, shutting down schools, and canceling large events can significantly reduce the rate of new infections.

It’s a good idea to check in with your local government and public health authority to find out what guidance is in place in your community. The CDC recommends everyone wash their hands frequently, keep a physical distance of 6 feet or more between yourself and anyone coughing or sneezing, and continue not touching your face (because we know you’ve been doing a great job so far).

 

2. What does it mean to ‘flatten the curve’?

When coronavirus hit Wuhan, China, it traveled fast. By February hospitals were filled to capacity and the waitlist to get an ambulance stretched into the hundreds. Medical practitioners hadn’t yet gotten a handle on what they were dealing with, so social distancing measures weren’t taken until it was too late. As a result, the epidemic curve, a graphic representation of the rapid spike in infections, was steep.

 

Flattening the Curve
two graphs. The red one has high peak in short time and blue one has small peak over course of time
ILLUSTRATION: SAM WHITNEY; CDC

 

To keep hospitals and doctor’s offices from becoming overwhelmed with sick patients, the ultimate goal for public health authorities is to flatten this curve. Social distancing measures can make a serious impact when they’re implemented early, so that, over time, all patients get the resources they need.

 

 

3. Is there an increased risk for people with underlying health conditions?

According to early research published in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at more than 1,000 Wuhan residents who contracted the coronavirus, it’s not just older adults that are susceptible to severe illness; people with chronic health conditions are also at a higher risk.

Coronavirus patients with diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, experienced a higher rate of infection than the general public, and nearly 15 percent of patients with serious coexisting disorders faced severe complications or death.

 

4. What are ‘mild’ symptoms?

Early analysis indicates that about 80 percent of coronavirus cases are nonsevere, but what does that mean? According to WHO, mild symptoms include the sniffles, coughing, sore throat and a low-grade fever—pretty much a cold. If you’re showing mild respiratory symptoms, even if you think it might be coronavirus, the CDC recommends you isolate at home and contact your healthcare provider. Telemedical services are now provided through most health insurance plans, and staying put for your appointment reduces the risk of transmission to others.

If you start experiencing more severe symptoms like sustained difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress, confusion, or are coughing up blood or large amounts of mucus, inform your doctor to evaluate whether or not you need additional treatment.

 

5. What’s a pandemic?

On March 11, the World Health Organization officially upgraded Covid-19 to pandemic status. A full-blown pandemic may sound frightening (after all, it shares the same root word as pandemonium), but the designation isn’t based on how dangerous the disease is. As epidemiologist Seema Yasmin explains, a pandemic is characterized by how geographically widespread a particular illness has become.

Since the beginning of the year, the coronavirus has spread to 114 countries and infected more than 118,000 people, and many researchers studying the disease have been treating the coronavirus as a pandemic for weeks. But the disease’s rapid spread is also fostering plenty of misinformation and fear, so accurate messaging is vitally important. WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus cautioned that the word should not be used “lightly or carelessly” and said that the classification does not change the level of threat posed by the virus.

 

6. Does handwashing work?

Yes! Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the most effective ways to prevent catching or spreading coronavirus (or any virus, for that matter). A virus is contained within a fatty lipid barrier, which it uses to bind to your cells and spread throughout your body. When you break this greasy envelope, you kill the virus. What’s tough on grease? Hand soap and sanitizer.

Though a virus on your hands can’t break the skin barrier to infect you (except through a cut or abrasion), it can enter your system if you touch your face and it wends its way into one of the many openings there. So wash your hands and seriously, don’t touch your face.

 

7. When should I go to the hospital?

If you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, it’s a good time to call 9-1-1. If you believe that you or someone in your household might have the coronavirus, though, be sure to make that clear to the operator. Medical professionals and hospital staff can catch the virus too, and the last thing they want is to become a vector and pass the virus on to someone else already in care.

If you’re having mild symptoms, however, hospitals want you to stay home. More serious symptoms like strained breathing, chest pain or life-threatening complications from an underlying illness might warrant a visit to the hospital, but it’s still a good idea to call first. Hospitals have enhanced protocol to handle potential coronavirus patients like wearing masks and donning protective gear.

 

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