Just two months ago, COVID-19, then commonly referred to as the “novel coronavirus,” was a distant concern for most Americans.
Since the virus has made its way to the United States, everyone has prioritized understanding how they can best protect themselves and those close to them. However, the medical field’s understanding of this virus is constantly changing, leading to varied and sometimes conflicting information.
In a Zoom call initially addressed to family and friends, Weill Cornell fellow of pulmonology, Dr. David Price, has attempted to dispel some of the public confusion regarding the virus. Since being reposted online the video has garnered nearly four million views. Working at one of the epicenters of the pandemic — New York City — and specializing in patients with respiratory illnesses in the intensive care unit, Price is uniquely positioned to speak about COVID-19.
While there are many uncertainties regarding the future of this pandemic and its effects on society and daily life, Price felt that there is a sufficient understanding of the virus, so people can be less afraid of what’s to come.
“You may hear a little inflection in my voice like I am emotional, it’s not because I am scared, it’s actually the opposite. For the first time in a while, I am actually not scared,” Price said. “We’re learning and we know a lot. What I want you guys to know is that every single day we are getting better.”
Price’s sense of optimism boils down to the understanding of how COVID-19 spreads — he believes that the vast majority of those with COVID-19 have had long, direct contact with someone who has the virus.
“The thought at this point is that you have to have very long, sustained contact with someone — I’m talking about 15 to 30 minutes in an unprotected environment without any type of mask for you to get it [through airborne transmission],” Price said. “To very simply state it, the overwhelming majority of people are getting this by physically touching someone who has this disease or will develop it in the next one or two days and touching their face.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease primarily spreads through close person-to person contact in the form of respiratory droplets from someone who is infected. It is also possible to contract COVID-19 through touching a contaminated surface or object and then one’s face. The virus can also spread “very easily and sustainably between people,” the CDC website read.
The CDC and World Health Organization do not list direct contact with a person for a long period of time as a primary mode of transmission of the disease. Neither organization mentions an amount of time one would need to spend with an infected person to contract the virus.
With this understanding of how the virus spreads comes the ability for people to take effective measures to protect themselves and those close to them. Even as someone that works with COVID-19 patients nearly all day, Price can now know he will not contract the disease because he knows how to protect himself.
Price’s advice to prevent the contraction of COVID-19 comes in the form of four critical rules: Always be aware of your hands and clean them after touching anything outside of your home; be conscious of not touching your face; be aware that you do not need any form of medical mask and stay away from others.
Price emphasized the importance of the first two measures — maintaining clean hands and avoiding hand-to-face contact.
“Those two things combined are incredibly powerful and will prevent the transmission of disease into your family in 99 percent of cases, to know your hands are clean and not to touch your face. Period,” Price said.
The first two rules can be followed in very simple ways. In order to maintain clean hands Price carries around hand sanitizer and cleans his hands after touching anything outside of his home, including door handles or elevator buttons. In order to develop the habit of not touching one’s face Price recommends wearing a mask.
However, these masks do not prevent the contraction of disease — meaning that people do not need medical grade masks like N95’s. Homemade masks or bandanas can suffice, especially because front line medical workers are in dire need of medical masks.
“You don’t need an N95 mask or a medical mask, any mask will do because this is not preventing the disease, it is training you,” Price said.
These rules represent the new normal for the foreseeable future. According to Price, social distancing measures could be in place for anywhere between three and nine months. While this seems like a long amount of time, it is not a reason for concern, according to Price.
While the media has focused on how individuals can prevent getting COVID-19, Price also provided recommendations in the event someone feels ill or tests positive.
The symptoms most commonly present in those with the virus are fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and shortness of breath, but the factor that indicates someone should make a trip to the hospital is shortness of breath.
“If you are feeling short of breath, come to the hospital. That is the rule, that is the clearest thing. It’s not ‘I have a fever’, it’s not ‘I think I have COVID-19’, it’s not ‘I can’t stop having body aches’. It’s ‘I feel short of breath when I go to the bathroom’,” Price said.
Most patients that go to the emergency room do not experience severe symptoms. In fact, most patients return home to wait out the course of their disease.
According to Price, of all people that get COVID-19, 10 percent need to go to hospital and of that 10 percent, 1 to 3 percent of patients need ventilators. Most of these patients that are placed on ventilators make a recovery within seven to 10 days. “Going to the hospital is not a death sentence, it’s a safe place for you to be,” Price said.
Those that must wait out the course of the virus at home should be very strict with their isolation from their family. Throughout the world, the vast majority of spread for the virus is between family members. For this reason, those that test positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms should self-isolate from the rest of the family. If possible they should be relegated to their own room and their own bathroom. If they come into a common space in the household the area they interact with should be cleaned.
“You’re going to want to take care of them, you’re going to want to be in and out of there checking their temperature. Don’t do it. If you are touching the temperature probe constantly to their mouth that is where the disease exists and then you are going to get it on your hands and touch your face,” Price said.
While this pandemic is far from over, Price hopes that this information will empower people to feel comfortable in their communities and allow people to reclaim some level of calm in their daily lives.
“[W]hen you know the only way you’re going to get this disease is if your hands are dirty and you touch your face and you are way too close to [a] person that becomes incredibly liberating,” Price said. “All of a sudden the person at the store is not your enemy, they’re someone who is going through this with you.”
Correction, April 2, 12:07 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated the mode of transmission for COVID-19. The disease can spread through respiratory droplets from someone who is infected and it can spread easily, not just through long, direct and sustained person-to-person contact.
Clarification, April 2, 1:36 p.m.: This article has been clarified to include official medical guidelines on COVID-19 from the CDC and World Health Organization.