What we need to know about staying safe as we close out 2020

Wisconsinites have learned much this year living in a COVID-19 world. At first, we understood the spread and severity of the deadly coronavirus and how it can bring countries around the globe to a standstill. Then, almost simultaneously, we discovered new words and phrases such as N95 masks, face coverings, ventilators, flattening the curve, super spreaders, and long-haulers – now part of our everyday conversations.

Based on what we know, how should we move forward as we close out this life-changing year? Be Safe Wisconsin medical experts give us the science and statistics behind the answer in how best to proceed.

What does science show us about how COVID-19 acts?

“It is highly contagious, spreading via respiratory droplets and aerosol,” says Anthony Zeimet, DO, Infectious Diseases Specialist, Ascension Medical Group, practicing in Appleton. “Aerosol spread is why being indoors where you sit for a prolonged period of time can be problematic. Congregating inside at places such as at bars, restaurants or churches puts people at risk for inhaling numerous viral particles.”

Dr. Zeimet notes that anyone is susceptible to the virus. It does not discriminate based on age. And research now is revealing, “Long-term complications are possible that may affect the lung, heart and brain.”

On a positive note, Zachary J. Baeseman, MD, MPH, FAAFP, Associate Medical Director, ThedaCare Physicians, practicing family medicine in Wild Rose and Waupaca, says science has shown COVID-19 can be prevented.  “We now know this virus can be contained if everyone does their part wearing a mask, social distancing and exhibiting good hand hygiene.”

Any ways people should change their behavior to stay safe?

Dr. Zeimet stresses, “If we work together, do the mitigation factors and have at least 90% compliance with masks, we can bring the viral numbers down, which will allow us to slowly get back to normal while awaiting a vaccine.”

He points to a report by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which indicates Wisconsin having a 40% compliance rate with wearing masks. “We need 90% compliance in order to bring numbers down,” Dr. Zeimet adds. “The actions we take can impact how Wisconsin and the nation emerge from this pandemic.”

Dr. Baeseman raises another important point Wisconsinites should consider about mask-wearing. “Based on the science, wearing a mask not only can reduce your chance of spreading and catching the virus, but also it can reduce the severity of illness you may experience by decreasing the burden of virus you are exposed to. It is currently thought that getting exposed to smaller amounts of the virus generally produces less severe disease and more disease that actually will remain asymptomatic.”

Any changes in the people most at risk of COVID-19?

“There is a lot that is still unknown about why some people get critically ill,” Dr. Baeseman says. “Again, there may be a component of how much exposure to the virus they might experience, which is another reason a mask may be helpful.”

That said, it is still believed the people most at risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19 are age 60 and older, obese, diabetic, pregnant or have a compromised immune system, underlying chronic lung disease and other chronic health conditions.

Dr. Zeimet adds, “Even those who don’t have any risk – a young, seemingly healthy individual – can still have severe illness and potentially succumb to this virus.”

Any extra precautions that should be taken during flu season?

Our medical experts say the most important additional recommendation is getting your routine influenza shot. Also, parents should make sure immunizations are up to date with their children, and older Wisconsinites and people with underlying chronic health conditions should get a pneumonia shot.

Other suggested preventive measures include:

  • Stay home if you feel ill.
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs and kisses.
  • Physical distance from others, 6 feet or more.
  • Avoid indoor gatherings.
  • Wear your mask in public places, especially when physical distancing is unpredictable (e.g. grocery stores).
  • Clean and disinfect common household surfaces frequently.

What are the go-to resources for the science behind COVID-19?

Healthcare organizations are a good place to get accurate information. “It’s very important to understand community spread in your local geographic area,” Dr. Baeseman says. “Medical professionals are reading the latest information and putting it into practice every day.”

Our medical experts suggest medical journals such as New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of American Medical Association for the latest scientific articles on COVID-19, in addition to these online, up-to-the-minute resources:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a dedicated COVID-19 Science Updates web page.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Health Services COVID-19 web page.