At a town-hall meeting in Enterprise’s Cloverleaf Hall Wed. March 4, Dr. Elizabeth Powell, Dr. Keith DeYoung, and others explained that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a type of flu that settles into the respiratory system, and often is not very serious. The meeting was live-streamed to other locations in the county.
“The current coronavirus is a type of virus that is really common,” said Dr. Elizabeth Powers. “All of us have had coronaviruses at some point in our lives. Little kids get it over and over, it’s the common cold, it’s the flu. There have been some kinds of coronavirus worldwide that have been more serious. You’ve probably heard of SARS and MERS, for example.”
What we are facing with COVID-19, Powers said, is “a serious, widespread infection of a common kind of virus that we get all the time.”
And, she said, we are experiencing a true pandemic, which is defined as something that can make people seriously ill, is transmitted person to person, and it occurs in more than one country, but has no implications for how serious the disease is.
“What we do know about this new COVID-19 novel coronavirus,” she said, “is that 80 percent of the cases are very mild. It might be a little more contagious as some other flu-type diseases, but it’s probably not as severe as SARS and MERS were."
Powers also cited new statistics from the Center for Disease Control showing that for people living in the same household as a confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) victim, only 1 in 10 contracted the disease. For those who were working in the same office or surroundings as a confirmed coronavirus case the infection rate was even lower.
“So it seems now that this coronavirus is neither as transmissible nor as deadly as some people had feared,” Powers said.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to flu: fever and cough. “A fever (of above 100.4 degrees) is really the criteria you have to have for us to consider you might have coronavirus,” she said. “And 8 out of 10 also have the cough. You might have body aches. It just means you feel icky. Your have low energy. Those are flu symptoms. And chances are that if you have those things, you actually have the flu. That’s what’s actually going around in Wallowa County right now.”
Treatment for the COVID-19 coronavirus right now, Powers noted, is the same as for flu. “What we really want to push is just preventing people from becoming sick in the first place,” she said. “Eat healthy, make sure you get plenty of rest, stay active, and make sure you practice good hygiene, including washing your hands regularly.” It’s not necessary or even recommended to use a mask, she added.
Medical providers in Wallowa County only test for COVID-19 for three reasons: 1) if you have a fever or a cough and you live or work with someone who has been confirmed with COVID-19 coronavirus; 2) If you have a fever and a cough and you’ve traveled to a place where the disease is prevalent (China, Japan, Italy, or South Korea) 3) If you have a fever and you are really sick in your lungs.
“There are currently 129 cases in the U.S. To put that in context, the number of flu cases is in the millions,” Powers said.
Most of the attentive audience in Cloverleaf Hall was in their 40’s and older—the age range that seems most susceptible to this new disease. They left somewhat more assured that although it’s a genuine pandemic, coronavirus is not an immediate threat to people in Wallowa County, and that the health care community has a watchful eye on the disease.