There’s a lot to break down when it comes to COVID-19, so let’s start with the basics. Actually, before that, let’s start by first saying this: Whether you’ve been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19, or you’re concerned for family, friends, or the state of the world, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. Now, more than ever, we are not alone—and by knowing the facts and following the guidelines, we can protect each other and ourselves.
So, the basics—which, depending on how glued you are to the news, you may already know: COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “Novel” means new, as in it’s not a virus that’s been identified before. There are some types of coronaviruses that cause common colds, but this particular coronavirus is completely new to us…and to researchers. The novel coronavirus is officially named SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes is COVID-19. (Why is it called COVID-19? It stands for Corona Virus Disease, identified in 2019). Countries like China (where the first cases of COVID-19 appeared), Italy, Spain, Germany, Iran, France, and the U.S. have seen the highest numbers of cases to date, and COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe. In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For reference, this is the first outbreak that’s been called a pandemic since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, which you may remember as the “swine flu.”
COVID-19 is spread by person-to-person contact. When a person who is positive for the virus coughs or sneezes, it creates something called “respiratory droplets.” If you come into contact with those droplets, meaning they land in your mouth or nose or are inhaled into the lungs, you might get sick. Or if you touch a surface those droplets have landed on and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing your hands, you might get sick that way too.
If you come down with symptoms and you’re wondering if you could have COVID-19, here’s what the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say you should look for:
Most common symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
Some people develop:
In severe cases (about 1 in 6, according to the WHO), people with COVID-19 develop difficulty breathing, persistent pain or “pressure” in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips/face. If you are having any of these emergency warning signs, please seek emergency medical attention right away.
In recent reports, loss of sense of smell alongside a diminished sense of taste is popping up as a potential telltale sign of COVID-19. It seems it's possible to have this symptom of COVID-19 without having any others. If you find that your sense of smell or taste seems "off," don't ignore it!
COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory illness. If you have any of the above symptoms, please call your doctor to ask whether you should be tested—don’t go to the office in person, in case you are sick. The big exception here is if you are having trouble breathing or any of the other emergency warning signs stated above. If so, please call 911 or your provider and they will tell you what to do. You may need to head to your nearest emergency room right away.
Some healthcare offices now are using telehealth options to treat patients, so if your symptoms aren’t severe, you may even be able to get a remote office visit. If you have mild symptoms, you are likely to be asked to isolate at home, and the CDC has provided guidelines for how to do that safely—especially if you live with others. The CDC also offers a “self-checker” that can act as a guide to help you make decisions and seek the right care. Keep in mind that not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19, and that state and local health departments and/or individual providers are making the decision based on your individual risk and availability of tests.
It’s important to know that people of all ages can be infected with COVID-19. A CDC analysis of U.S. cases in February and March shows that approximately 38% of those sick enough to be hospitalized were ages 20-54. Older people and people with pre-existing conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease) or people who are immunocompromised seem to be more at risk of becoming severely ill or dying. But even if you don’t fall into these demographics, it’s still critical to educate yourself about COVID-19 and take steps to protect yourself and others. The data shows that this virus is very contagious—about twice as contagious as the flu, according to the early research. It also can be hard to detect, because not everyone gets really sick. Some people require hospitalization, but others will have mild symptoms. A study done by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that, of the 44,672 COVID-19 cases that had been confirmed in China by February 11, 81% were mild. (In this study, a case was categorized as mild if it didn’t involve pneumonia, or only involved mild pneumonia.)
Also, in mild cases of COVID-19, it’s pretty easy for symptoms to masquerade as cold or flu symptoms. And in some cases, people may be carrying the virus, but will actually show no symptoms. That makes it even harder to control. Unfortunately, studies have shown that you can spread the virus to others when you’re asymptomatic, but according to the WHO, the risk of catching the virus from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. That’s because the main way that people spread the virus is via coughing. They do caution that someone with even a mild cough can have and spread COVID-19, even if the person feels fine otherwise. It’s also important to remember that this virus is completely new, so scientists are still learning about it as you read this, and the WHO is continuing to assess info about the virus’s transmission period.
The WHO, CDC, and governments have made recommendations about how we can adjust our behavior to keep ourselves and other people safer. You already know that washing your hands is key, as is not touching your face (which we’ve collectively discovered is extremely difficult). There’s also “social distancing,” which is definitely in the running to become the Merriam Webster “Word of the Year”—and it’s 100% got our vote. Social distancing is a broad term, but it basically means avoiding situations that might put you in close contact with other people. Close is typically defined as within 6 feet, and many people are heeding the call to action by staying in their homes and only going out for essential reasons, like periodic grocery shopping. In addition to asking people to practice social distancing, some cities and towns have enacted shelter-in-place orders to further protect their citizens. In other words (and you know this already), EVERYTHING is canceled—and that’s a very, VERY good thing, because it limits the spread of the virus in a really significant and kind of amazing way. Of course, we know it’s not easy to hit pause indefinitely on life and work, and we know that this kind of isolation can cause challenges for your mental health in particular. If you’re feeling the strain of isolation, please reach out to your WanaFam for support—we are so here for you on this. In some sense, we’re all kind of experts on isolating circumstances and learning to thrive in tough conditions!
Avoiding situations that might put you in close contact with other people
And here is why social distancing is so important: According to reporting in the New York Times, scientists tracking the spread of the virus believe that “for every confirmed case, there are most likely another five to 10 people in the community with undetected infections.” That’s the challenging nature of this virus, which scientists are working hard to learn about, and fast. We want to protect our vulnerable populations—the elderly, and people with underlying illnesses (oh hi, hello, that’s us)—as much as we can. We should also keep in mind that there are employees who have been asked to continue to work—delivery drivers, pharmacy and grocery store workers, janitorial staff—and that those of us who can stay home, need to, to better protect the people whose work goes on.
The work of healthcare workers, of course, continues more rapidly and urgently than ever. One of the reasons that scientists and medical professionals have advocated for social distancing is because our healthcare system can only handle so many sick people at once. That’s why it’s extremely critical that we flatten. that. curve. There won’t be enough ventilators to treat incoming COVID-19 patients, and there also won’t be enough medical staff to keep up with the number of cases (not to mention that we’re already seeing shortages of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers). If the virus continues to keep pace with what scientists believe to be its current infection rate, our hospitals and healthcare workers will be totally overwhelmed—and in some cases, they already are. That’s a big problem, and that’s why the solution requires such a radical shift in how we live our lives. It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of effort, one that requires us to take on this incredible personal responsibility for each other’s safety and well-being. If this feels like something we’ve never before experienced in our lifetime, well, that’s because most of us haven’t. But if there’s any group of people that understands the importance of this moment, where seemingly small choices about health and community can make a huge difference, it’s the WanaFam. So, let’s support each other through it, and remind each other, on days when we feel isolated and lonely, that #stayingathome is one of the most caring and impactful actions we can take to help friends and strangers alike.
We also want to say, it’s totally normal to be anxious or to feel downright terrified during this time. So much is changing, and so fast. So, while we’re staying at home, checking up on each other virtually (thank you, social media—we bow down to you, and we also log the heck off when we need to), we can take steps to boost our immunity and keep ourselves feeling well. In times as uncertain as these, taking control of our health can be more empowering than ever.
When it comes to boosting your immunity, herbs, supplements, and foods can help us achieve our goals. But before you add any supplements or herbs, consult with your practitioner or doctor, especially if you’ve been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19 or you suspect you may be. Herbs and supplements are very powerful, and you want to make sure that you’re adding elements to your regimen that will be helpful to you and not harmful based on your personal health condition. Like all the information you find here on Wana, this is not one-size-fits-all. Partner with a knowledgeable practitioner to make sure you’re getting the customized guidance you need when it comes to herbs and supplements that can support your health.
Here’s what our experts generally recommend:
Echinacea: Used for the common cold and other infections because it stimulates the immune system to more effectively combat infections and viruses. Taking it while you’re well may slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold.
Astragalus: Used in traditional Chinese medicine for general immune support among other things. It is also believed to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral effects.
Elderberry: Teas and syrups have been used to fight upper respiratory infections and boost immunity for hundreds of years. They’re believed to work by supplying the body with antioxidants and boosting our natural immune response.
Vitamin D3: You can't get enough D3 from food, so if you don’t live in a warm sunny place, make sure to take between 2,000-5,000 IU daily to boost immunity.
There are also lots of ways to boost immunity and lower stress with food. If that work-from-home life has got you snacking, put your snacking to good use! Try these powerhouse foods, recommended by Wana experts, for immunity support:
Vitamin C Foods: Broccoli, citrus, strawberries, spinach, papaya
Zinc foods: Beef, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, oysters and other shellfish
Phytonutrients aka antioxidants: Vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, especially oregano, thyme, and garlic
Probiotics: in food form:** Naturally fermented sauerkraut, kefir
There are also simple habits that can help you take care of your body and mind during this time—and trying to commit to them will help you keep a routine, too. Do your best to get enough sleep, stay hydrated, move your body every day (whether it’s stretching, yoga, or a kickboxing class), and limit stress as best as you can. We know it’s not easy to feel at ease when our lives are filled with so much uncertainty. With that in mind, be gentle with yourself. Ask for support when you need it and reach out to others when you feel you can be a shoulder to lean on. We are in this together, and we will get through it together.