HONOLULU (KHON2) — While state and county officials work to deal with the spike in coronavirus cases, there are things we can do to help protect ourselves and each other. Always Investigating got expert guidance on going beyond the mask to help crush COVID-19.
We’ve been told for months that COVID-19 prevention can be as easy as 1-2-3: Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep a distance. But if the virus gets to you, or to a close contact, there are several additional and essential steps that you can take immediately without waiting for a call from the state: If you are symptomatic or infected immediately self-isolate, get tested and trace your own contacts.
“Everybody needs to take that social responsibility,” Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group advised. “Stand up and do the right thing. That’s how we stop this.”
Always Investigating asked the state Department of Health for guidance on what to do if you are infected or if you’re a close contact. They gave us five different pages.
“You got these forms, how does a normal person know what to do? How do you differentiate that?” Miscovich said.
KHON2 synthesized all the official DOH and CDC guidelines, and sought expert advice to draw out the most critical steps each and every one of us can take to turn the tide ourselves in the face of an escalating infection rate that is beyond the scope of what the government alone can solve.
“Don’t just sit home. Get tested and do it rapidly,” Miscovich said. “If you’ve been exposed to a positive, don’t wait four or five days. Get tested. Talk to an experienced provider.”
Say your test comes back positive. What constitutes a close contact–someone who should also now immediately isolate? The state said one place a close contact is someone within six feet of you for 10 minutes, elsewhere stating it’s 15 minutes or more. DOH tells us they will be correcting it to 15 minutes after Always Investigating flagged the inconsistencies.
Doctors say don’t get too caught up in minutes because even a short exposure unmasked can transit the virus.
“This is a respiratory virus,” Miscovich said. “If I’m standing within 6 feet of you and I’m breathing and you’re sharing the air, you have crossed over a close contact.”
An important detail DOH told us, but which is not yet on their recommendation sheets, is that the proximity of when you may be at risk as a close contact is “starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the patient was isolated.”
In most cases, a household member will be a close contact needing to isolate and test. In some cases, it may be a friend who was in a social gathering, a nearby coworker or someone in the public who interfaced long and close enough with the positive person. Doctors say COVID-positive people should self-contact them all right away.
“There’s an embarrassment but now is not the time to be embarrassed. Get on the phone, call your friends, tell them ‘I’m positive’ and ask them to go get tested,” Miscovich said.
As for work, let your boss know as soon as possible too.
“It’s going to send more of a ripple effect if you don’t tell,” Miscovich said, “and numerous other employees become positive and your whole workplace gets crippled or shut down because of it.”
Close contacts need to isolate 14 days from last being with a positive person. Close household members who cannot distance inside the home must wait a full 14 days after the initial positive person’s clearance from isolation in order to fully break the cycle.
Others in the household should fully isolate if living with a positive person.
“They should put the food outside their door,” Miscovich said. “They should work to have external ventilation with a window open and a fan blowing out and take it very serious. If you have a kupuna or tutu with you, put a fan over their shoulder closing all the repertory droplets away and then basically they’re not going to be breathing anybody’s air.”
Public health guidance from other states helps clearly explain who is not a close contact. Their explanation is very helpful for parsing out people who are in a rung twice-removed from the positive case, but who may worry from word-of-mouth that someone their friend hung out with is positive. These can be called “contacts of contacts,” and experts say they are generally in the clear or a low-to-no risk unless or until the direct close-contact is symptomatic or positive in their presence.
And sorry to say, keep distance from your pets, too. The animals themselves aren’t at risk, but there’s a chance they can be a transporter though doctors say it is a low risk.
“If you’re breathing on your pet and coughing on your pet and you display a respiratory droplet, that droplet,” Miscovich explained, “someone comes and then hugs the dog, gets that droplet, gets it on their face, touches their eyes. So there are multiple steps before your dog or your cat or whatever animal you have is going to transmit.”
For all the in-depth guidance there are multiple resources from the CDC and Hawaii Department of Health, plus detailed guidance on isolation, testing and contact tracing. But at a minimum: wear masks, wash hands, keep distance. And if you come up positive: self isolate, test, and self-trace your close contacts.
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