KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou answers questions about COVID-19 outbreak

KSTP sat down with Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou to get some facts about the current coronavirus outbreak as the number of cases and concerns continue to climb.

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Q: What are the symptoms?

Dr. Georgiou: "The symptoms can be pretty non-specific but they’re flu-like symptoms. About 88% of people will have a fever — that’s the telltale sign — 67% of people will have a dry cough, 40% will have fatigue and then a third of people will have difficulty breathing, but of course that represents the group that is going to have the most serious case of coronavirus."

Q: Is there a specific number on the fever when you should call the doctor’s office?

Dr. Georgiou: "If you have any of these symptoms, you should call the doctor, they will then listen to your travel history and exposure history and decide whether or not you need to get treated. So, if you have those symptoms don’t go to the doctor, call the doctor and see what they recommend."

Q: Explain social distancing to us?

Dr. Georgiou: "Social distancing is maintaining a distance of three to six feet from another person because the respiratory droplets, which is how the coronavirus spreads, can travel up to six feet, so keeping a distance between people can keep one person from infecting another. The reason this is important is because we’ve heard the expression "flatten the curve."

Q: What is flatten the curve?

Dr. Georgiou: "When we have an epidemic you expect a large rise in the number of cases quickly. If we practice social distancing, research shows that it can slow down or "flatten the curve" of the number of people that get infected. It gives us more time to figure out how it’s behaving, how to treat it, how to open up capacity because, frankly, we don’t have enough capacity to deal with everyone getting sick if everyone gets sick very quickly."

Q: What does getting tested for COVID-19 involve?

Dr. Georgiou: "If anyone’s been tested for influenza virus it’s not much different than that. It’s called a nasopharyngeal swab, they put a swab way back into your nose so that they can really get a specimen from back there. The results come back anywhere from one day to four days after the swab is done."

Coronavirus Outbreak Coverage

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Q: How did we get to the point of continued spread and extreme concern in the community?

Dr. Georgiou: "The highlights of the history of this virus is that the first reported cluster of this virus in Wuhan, China was recorded on Dec. 29 and we saw a lot of cases there. The first case outside of China was Jan. 13, and here we are today with 117 countries being infected, almost 138,000 people infected and 5,000 people dead, but looking backward isn’t going to help us, we need to look ahead."

Q: We have been told the number of cases and deaths will get worse, where are we now?

Dr. Georgiou: "We are definitely going to see more cases, primarily because we’re finally testing. I think that has been the disappointment in the United States is that there have been other countries, particularly South Korea, that have been way far ahead of us, in terms of their abilities to test large numbers of people, which is why they’ve been able to contain the virus so much more effectively than we have or other countries have. I was just calculating their mortality rate in South Korea, their mortality rate is 0.8% whereas the mortality rate in our country is much higher than that. As a result of being able to test more people, they’ve been able to contain more people so that others don’t get infected."

Q: Can our healthcare system handle the volume of patients that might need care?

Dr. Georgiou: "Models have been done to look at the number of hospital beds we would need if there is a moderate pandemic and we would need about 1 million beds in the United States, and that’s assuming all of them would be empty at the moment we would need them. We actually only have 792,000 beds in the United States. For those people who are the sickest, we would have an estimated need for 200,000 intensive care unit beds, we only have 45,000 beds. We have the same worrisome numbers in the number of ventilators. Let’s shed some positive light because we don’t want people to panic here, what can we do about it. What we can do about it is that we all have the responsibility to do what the governor said today, which is this social distancing. I love you very much but I’m going to stay six feet away from you, we’re not going to do hugs, let’s not even make contact with each other because that is going to allow us to flatten the curve, decrease the number number of people that are exposed, stretch this out so that we have time to be prepared and to handle what’s going on."

Q: A lot of people are asking what they can do to protect themselves if they travel on an airplane, what are you telling them?

Dr. Georgiou: "In an airplane, I’m not nervous about the shared air at all, it may be better air than you may be breathing in other locations that are right here on the ground, but what you do want to do is not be touching surfaces in airplanes. So take your disinfectant wipe and wipe off the seat and the armrests and the tray tables. Even one other thing you can do is when you check-in at the airport, instead of putting your fingers on the kiosk, check-in from your own cellphone."