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Ask Dr. Halverson: How to minimize risk from COVID-19 as Ojai Valley reopens

3 24 HALVERSONPICcBy Dr. Jim Halverson
As our Ojai Valley slowly reopens for business, education, recreation and entertainment, here are suggestions and information to keep us less likely to acquire COVID-19 and decrease the chance of transmitting the virus.

Where are people getting infected?

Make sure you wash your hands immediately upon entering your residence. Any items brought into the home should be cleaned immediately, if possible, with an antiviral cleansing solution. In addition, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. Maintain social distancing from those at higher risk (age over 65, chronic lung or heart disease, the severely obese, diabetics, liver disease, pregnant females, active cancer patients undergoing treatment) and if you are not feeling well, use separate bathroom and sleeping quarters if available.

Any indoor environment with poor circulation and a high density of people spells trouble.

How is the virus spread?

Nearly 90% of COVID-19 cases in which a source has been identified have come from direct human-to-human spread. The highest amount of virus comes from the sneeze of an infected person. Coughing, singing and yelling also release higher amounts of the virus than breathing or speaking. Coming in contact with an infected surface accounts for most of the remaining cases. Washing your hands frequently and not touching your face remain very important habits.

 

 

What about asymptomatic people spreading the virus?

At least 40% of all infections have been traced to people who had no symptoms at the time of transmission (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). A person can be shedding the virus for up to five days before symptoms begin. The amount of virus generally builds to the point where a person becomes symptomatic. Therefore, the highest amount of virus shedding in an asymptomatic person occurs just prior to a person becoming ill. The wisest advice is to consider that all individuals you encounter could have the virus (and that you could also).

How does a person become infected?

Each person requires a certain amount of virus particles to enter their body (usually through the respiratory system) for an infection to occur. The more compromised our immune system (due to age or immune-suppressant drugs) or our underlying health (due to lung or heart disease, diabetes and other known risk factors) the fewer viral particles that are needed to cause infection. The amount of exposure and how long a person is exposed are critical. Remember the formula: Successful infection= Exposure to Virus x Time. For example, a single sneeze from an infected person can infect several people if they are in close proximity especially in a poorly ventilated place. On the other hand, being several feet away from an infected person who is quietly sitting could lead to no infection at all even after several hours of exposure.

What about indoor vs. outdoor exposure?

Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air, and lots of people are very concerning especially if you are there for an extended period of time. Outdoor areas are much less risky. It is highly likely that there is not enough time to reach the amount of viral load to begin infection if you are more than 6 feet apart from others and wind and infinite space dilute virus exposure. In addition, it appears that sunlight and heat also will lessen risk if outside. Also, if you are physically active with appropriate distance from others, your risk should be very low.

 

Conclusion

As restrictions are loosened and we venture out more to businesses, educational, social or recreational activities, it is imperative we assess the risk involved on a daily basis. How many people will be there? Can I maintain appropriate social distancing? Is the area, if indoors, appropriately ventilated? How long will I be in an area of concern? What is the risk to others at home when I return? Even if you are in excellent health and considered low risk, please be responsible for the welfare of others. It will help us maintain the healthiest and safest Ojai Valley in the critical months ahead.

Stay hopeful, stay safe and stay well.

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who is providing a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.

 

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