Updated, 9:30 a.m. Thursday, March 19
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus being diagnosed in Kansas and Missouri is going up, and one elderly man in Wyandotte County has died from the disease.
It’s likely that more people have COVID-19 than have been tested in either state, and if you’re not practicing social distancing yet, you should. To try and prevent the spread, Kansas City, Missouri, and Jackson County have banned gatherings of 10 people or more until the first week of May as a precaution.
KCUR is tracking the latest coronavirus developments on our live blog.
We’ve also tried to answer some of the questions you might have about coronavirus.
Is my cough the coronavirus?
“If you take your temperature, and you have a fever of 100.4 or greater, a cough that’s been going on and trouble breathing, then contact your healthcare provider,” said Gary Salzman, a pulmonologist at Truman Medical Center
Who’s most at risk of getting sick?
For most healthy people who contract the coronavirus, their symptoms will be mild. But older adults and people with chronic conditions, complications can be much more serious. The same is true for those who are immunocompromised, such as cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
“As you get older, your immune system tends to wane, so you’re not as good at fighting off infections,” Salzman said. “Older people need to take special precautions, but it’s not just an age thing. It’s how healthy you are. You may have younger people in their 40s or 50s with diabetes, heart disease or lung disease who are at much higher risk for getting very sick as opposed to a healthy 70-year-old that doesn’t have any chronic disease.”
Children seem to be at less risk for COVID-19, said Dena Hubbard, a neonatologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, but parents and caregivers should still emphasize good hygiene habits like handwashing.
If I feel fine, do I need to stay home?
We understand that you might not have that option if your office hasn’t closed or you work in a critical industry that’s helping respond to the pandemic. (And we don’t just mean health care workers. Here’s to you, Costco employee restocking toilet paper.) But if you can stay home, you should.
Look at what’s happening in Italy, where the health care system has been overwhelmed by patients seriously ill with coronavirus. There aren’t enough hospital beds or ventilators for everyone who needs one. Scary, right? That’s why we need to practice social distancing right now. By avoiding unnecessary contact with other people, we can “flatten the curve.” That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls keeping the number of coronavirus cases below the level that would overwhelm the health system.
If I do have to leave my house, what precautions should I take?
Wash your hands frequently, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. ( That’s singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice. When that gets boring, try these tunes.) Don’t forget to moisturize your hands occasionally. If your skin is cracking, soap and disinfectant don’t work as well.
Avoid touching your hands and face.
Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently. (This includes that phone we know you take into the bathroom with you.)
And if you’re sick or running a fever, stay home.
What kind of precautions should I take with a child who has asthma, or has had a flu or respiratory illness recently?
For the most part, children have been spared the severe outcomes experienced by the senior population and in those with underlying conditions. It is important to remember, though, that this is a new coronavirus and scientific research and data is still limited, said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a pediatrician at Children's Mercy and professor and interim dean at the UMKC School of Medicine.
"I fully suspect that we're going to find, and we're finding already, many children with mild infection," she said, and the children most vulnerable to COVID-19 are likely the same ones who experience the most severe consequences of an influenza virus.
Ultimately, if someone in your family is high-risk because of age OR an underlying condition, Dr. Jackson recommended limiting both their interaction with others, as well as your own, starting now.
Is there any danger of grocery stores running out of food?
By now you've likely seen online, if not in person, grocery store shelves devoid of food, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other consumer goods.
But don't worry, says Associated Wholesale Grocers CEO David Smith. "There's plenty of food, we are not going to run out."
While there are temporary shortages of certain items right now, Smith noted manufacturers and grocers will soon catch back up to demand.
"A few items may be in short supply temporarily and some of the variety that you used to see won't be there on a day in and day out basis," he said, "but (manufacturers are) going to be focusing on getting the top sellers back on the shelf as quickly as possible, and we're picking those products up and bringing them in."
If you're wondering how well you should be stocking your own pantry in the coming weeks, Smith recommended keeping a two-week supply on hand in case you need to quarantine. After that, "buy as you normally would," he said. "Don't horde, leave some for your neighbor."
Does wearing gloves keep me any safer?
"I worry very much about people thinking they are protected by wearing gloves," said Jackson. That's because it's very easy to contaminate them, and everything else you subsequently touch with them.
"I see people doing multiple tesks with these gloves on," she said, "that is not the solution."
Instead, the doctor recommends diligence when it comes to practicing enhanced hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your hands and face, and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently.
Can I go for a walk outside?
You can and you should, Jackson said.
Not only is the occasional walk a physically healthy thing to do, it can also help boost your morale — especially if you're taking the dog along with you.
"I'm actively encouraging people that even though we're social distancing, that doesn't mean you have to stay in your house," said psychologist Katie Kreighauser, director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment.
Just remember: Limit your contact with others in the process and maintain social distancing guidelines.
Should I be going to the bank? What about the grocery store?
Many banks are currently offering drive-thru service only, and some grocery stores have cut hours to leave ample time for restocking and cleaning. Those things help limit exposure, but most of us will still need to make a trip in at some point.
"So your first question is: Is it essential that I get out and do this?" said Jackson. If it is essential, maintain that recommended six feet of distance between you and anyone else as much as you can.
Older folks should think about going to the grocery store very early in the day, when there's less traffic.
Going through a drive-thru is going to be relatively safe, the doctor said, just make sure you're using good hand hygiene before and after. It also doesn't hurt to keep some hand sanitizer in the car for just these kinds of occasions.
Should I worry about doing my laundry, or having someone else do it?
First and foremost, no one who is sick should be handling laundry, said Jackson. That goes for at home or at a laundromat.
"I can't speak specifically to what laundries are doing," she said, "but the principles of public health are going to be the same for all of us," from police to laundromat attendants.
That means enhanced hand hygiene, making sure surfaces are clean and disinfected, and making sure you are maintaining social distance.
There's also no recommendation to wear gloves as you handle laundry, Dr. Jackson said.
What if the food bank I depend on is closed?
Social distancing guidelines and restrictions on gatherings of people have put a crimp in the operations of many food distributors, including Harvesters.
But, "the network of literally scores of food pantries throughout the region is alive and well," said Jim MacDonald, chief community impact officer for the United Way of Greater Kansas City.
Groups like Harvesters, he said, are working diligently behind the scenes with partner organizations that have a better capacity to distribute food in emergency and crisis situations.
In the short term, MacDonald encouraged people who depend on programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program should "reach out to United Way 211 and one of our call specialists can help ... find resources through a different location."
What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine? And what do all those letters mean?
In the rush of new information, many news outlets and even doctors have sometimes used virus-related words in inconsistent ways, but these terms do have official definitions from the federal government. To be clear:
isolation – when someone who is sick avoids contact with others to prevent the virus from spreading.
quarantine – who someone who is not sick, but may have been exposed to the virus, avoids contact with others while waiting to see if they develop symptoms.
SARS-CoV-2 – the official name given to the novel coronavirus virus in mid-February (short for severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2).
COVID-19 – the disease caused by SARS-COV-2 (short for coronavirus disease 2019).
coronavirus – a group of diseases that cause respiratory tract infections. Some coronavirus can cause the common cold, while others cause more serious illness like SARS or MERS. In recent weeks, however, the virus that causes COVID-19 has been commonly called “the coronavirus.”
presumptive positive – a positive result on a test conducted by a state or other local lab that has not yet been confirmed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
confirmed – a coronavirus-positive test result that has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
investigation – health providers determine who are “persons under investigation.” These are individuals who should be tested for COVID-19 based on their symptoms, travel history or potential exposure to the virus, or who are sick without other explanation. The criteria may be different in different places, depending on the status of the virus in the area.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.