As South Africa creeps even closer to its third month in lockdown, the number of people infected with COVID-19 increases. It is, arguably, more important than ever to ensure all the guidelines are followed to keep ourselves and others safe. It all starts with knowing what we are up against.
Know the virus
The Coronavirus Disease 2019, commonly known as COVID-19, is a new strain of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It attacks the respiratory system, which can cause difficulty breathing. People over 50, with a respiratory illness or an underlying disease that is cardiovascular-related, such as high blood pressure, are more likely to fall severely ill with the coronavirus. This might lead to hospitalisation or the need for a ventilator.
Similar to influenza or the common cold, COVID-19 mainly spreads through droplets, or contaminated objects and surfaces. In most cases, this requires coming into close contact with someone who is ill.
COVID-19 is less contagious than influenza but presents an unique challenge for healthcare workers as the symptoms can take up to a week to show. This means that infected people can unknowingly spread the virus.
What should I look out for?
The most common symptoms are fatigue, a dry couch and fever. Although less common, other symptoms that could point to COVID-19 include:
- Aches and pains;
- Sore throat;
- Loss of taste or smell; and
- A rash on the skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.
Serious symptoms of the virus include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pains or pressure and a loss of speech. If you experience any of these serious symptoms, you should contact your doctor or a hospital immediately.
Be sure to phone your doctor, clinic or hospital in advance so that they can take the necessary precautionary measures.
“It is important to only touch the straps when putting on your mask and ensure it covers your nose and mouth.”
What can I do to slow the spread?
As there is no cure or vaccine currently for COVID-19, it is important to follow the guidelines to help prevent the spread of the disease. It starts with washing your hands regularly with hot water and soap for at least 30 seconds. Ideally, you should follow the World Health Organization (WHO)’s guidelines.
If water and soap are not available, sanitise your hands and frequently touched surfaces or items, such as your assistive device and cell phone, with a hand sanitiser that is at least 70 percent alcohol-based. It is also important to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands – particularly your mouth, nose and eyes.
It is important to cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you are sick, this will prevent the further spread of the virus through your hands as you touch other surfaces.
Of course, it is also important to avoid close contact with a sick person. If you are ill and need a caregiver to assist, be sure to provide them with the necessary protective equipment to limit the possibility of them falling ill as well.
When in public, be sure to practice social distancing by standing between 1,5 to two metres from anyone who is not in the same household. All South Africans are also required to wear a mask when in any public space, which includes the street, shops or clinics. Even when exercising, it is best to keep your mask on.
How should I wear and care for my mask?
First, make sure you have the correct mask. All cloth masks should be at least three layers, which includes a filter.
The mask should fit snugly over your mouth and nose to prevent the spread of any droplets.
Wash your hands before putting on your mask. Only touch the straps when tying it behind your head or fitting it over your ears.
While it is tempting to remove your mask when others are not around, DON’T!
If you remove your mask, droplets can spread to nearby surfaces. It is also recommended by the WHO to not touch the front of your mask as this could spread the virus to your hands.
Make sure the mask covers both your mouth and nose all the time or it will be less effective.
Wash your hands again before removing the mask.
Only hold onto the straps. Immediately sanitise the mask after you have removed it by soaking it in boiling water.
If you are unsure of how to correctly sanitise your mask, check the manufacturer’s instructions.
When can we expect a vaccine?
There are fortunately numerous vaccines currently being tested. The British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca expects to roll out two billion doses of its vaccine in September if the trials are successful. This is the earliest expected vaccine after experts estimated the first rollouts to take place only next year.