SARASOTA — Just as you’re the first line of defense in avoiding COVID-19, you’re the person who’s first in line to diagnose whether you might have it and how to respond.
The most common symptoms are still fever, a dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath, Dr. Jack Rodman, chief medical officer of First Medical Group, said in a video press briefing last week.
They appear from two to 14 days after exposure, and on average within four to six days, he said. If they’re manageable, you can stay home and you should be improving by seven or eight days later, he said.
If your symptoms linger or worsen, see your primary care physician, he said, and if they get severe, call EMS to go to the hospital.
About 80% of people exposed to the virus will recover without needing to be hospitalized, he said.
If you can be in a separate bedroom with a separate bath and avoid sharing anything, it will reduce the risk of infecting other members of the household. Masks, gloves and hand-washing are crucial.
What to do
There’s no cure for COVID-19, Rodman said, so as with a cold, you can only treat the symptoms, in much the same manner: rest; drink plenty of fluids; eat healthy; and use acetaminophen for aches and fever and over-the-counter medicine for your cough.
It’s critical to control your fever, to prevent seizures, he said. Acetaminophen is preferred to ibuprofen, he said, out of caution for potential impacts on the heart or kidneys.
You need a high caloric intake, with fruits and vegetables for vitamins and sports drinks, diluted, for electrolytes, he said. If you’re not producing much urine, then you’re not drinking enough fluids.
If possible, you should also be monitoring your blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation level, said Dr. Joseph Seaman, a critical care pulmonologist with Sarasota Memorial Hospital, especially if you have pre-existing health problems.
If any of those tests shows abnormal results, or if you have chest pain, seek medical attention, he said.
“That’s what the emergency room’s for,” he said.
COVID-19 attacks cells in the respiratory tract, Rodman said. Both doctors emphasized the need for anyone who may be dealing with COVID-19 at home to get some exercise for their lungs’ sake and not give in to the temptation to linger in bed.
“I cannot overstate the importance of moving,” Seaman said. “You need to get up and walk through your house for no good reason other than just to move.”
Do that every hour, he said, and take deep breaths and cough on purpose while you’re doing it to avoid pneumonia or a bacterial infection.
Because the coronavirus has had a recent resurgence and public health officials are warning of a second wave later in the year, Rodman recommends putting together a COVID-19 emergency kit.
If you’ve prepared one for hurricane season, you have a good start: emergency contacts, medication, cleaning supplies, extra sheets and towels.
Rodman advises adding a thermometer; masks; gloves; a pulse oximeter; and a notebook and pen, to keep track of your symptoms, readings and medications.
If you want to help someone recovering at home, there are options that won’t expose you to them, Seaman said.
You can shop for food or medical supplies to be dropped off at their doorstep, he said. Meals can be provided the same way.
Even just staying in regular communication can help, he said.
“All of this social and physical distancing and quarantining means we’re no longer social beings,” he said. “The more we help take care of the community, the less this is going to be an issue.”
By the numbers
After several weeks during which new COVID-19 cases in Florida regularly topped the 10,000 mark, health officials are hopeful that this month’s surge may be subsiding.
Florida still reported 9,243 new cases in state residents Tuesday but it was the third straight day in which the number was below 10,000.
The positivity rate was still over 11%, however, and 186 new deaths, a record for one day in Florida, were reported.
Deaths lag about two weeks behind the number of new cases reported, so the number reported Tuesday isn’t necessarily in conflict with a downturn in the number of cases.
Sarasota County reported 107 new cases Tuesday as the positivity rate bounced back up to 9.8% after three days under 7%.
The state report shows no new COVID-19 deaths in the county but Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported two on its website for a total of 56.
The hospital’s COVID-19 census was down to 109 patients on Tuesday compared to 115 on Monday, with 24 of them in the ICU, down two from Monday.
ICU bed availability regionally has rebounded somewhat, with 33% of beds open in Sarasota County (counting SMH at 72 beds); 16.18% in Manatee County; and 17.73% in Lee County.
ICU beds are scarcer in Charlotte County, with only seven available. State data show no beds open at Fawcett Memorial and only two at Bayfront Health Port Charlotte. Bayfront Health Punta Gorda had the other five.