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COVID-19 Pandemic: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe and Reduce Your Risk

by Amelia BaffaPediatric Adolescent Young Adult Psychiatric ProviderMarch 31, 2020View more posts from Amelia Baffa

The Enemy

COVID-19 is an invisible enemy, its cunning, and an expert in adaption. Its only weakness is that it needs a surface to live on or a host to live in. Most of us are well aware of how devastating this virus can be as evidenced by the death rates in countries ahead of us on the curve such as China, Italy, and Spain. The good news is we still have time to flatten the curve if we pay attention to the lessons they have learned and follow the recommendations, from the Center of Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and our state and local health departments. So please let’s do our part and learn more about how we can protect and care for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, our communities, and our world while we still have the chance.

What’s the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) an epidemic is a rise in the number of cases of a disease beyond what is normally expected in a specific geographical area. Let’s take the flu for example, some areas may have a sudden spike in flu cases, when the flu is prevalent.  However the increase in cases doesn’t spread among all countries and continents. A pandemic is when a disease spreads across many countries and continents and affects a large number of people. In a pandemic, you assume that everyone has potential to be exposed.

Where are we on the timeline continuum of COVID-19 in the United States?

We are in the early stages of a COVID-19 global pandemic in the US. To date New York State has been the hardest hit with over 60% of all cases in the US being located there. California and Washington are close behind and are considered to be in a state of emergency, while other states are requiring additional help from the National Guard, and many others are only a week or two away from experiencing their first series of surges.

What’s a surge?

A surge is when hospitals are expecting large numbers of people in the community that come to them for emergency care. How well the hospitals and medical communities are prepared to survive a hazard impact while maintaining services and recover operations is called disaster surge preparedness. Hospitals are preparing for multiple levels of COVID-19 related surges. This is very similar to what we are seeing in other countries, large numbers of individuals experiencing serious respiratory distress presenting at hospitals and emergency rooms requiring an intense level of care and in many cases respiratory support and even mechanical ventilation (breathing machine).

What is the Coronavirus?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a novel (newly) discovered coronavirus.

Who is at risk?

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and cancer survivors are more likely to develop serious illness.

Will everyone who gets it get seriously ill?

No, most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. In a recent article published in The New York Times it was reported that 40% of the cases of COVID-19 in the US were people ages 20-54. The risk of dying from it is worse in the elderly population, but a word of caution, do not think that because you are young that you cannot get it and become seriously ill. The numbers don’t lie, you are susceptible, and if you are a cancer patient or survivor you should take extra precaution.

How does it spread?

The COVID19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the droplets travel about 6 feet. So, it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, coughing into a flexed elbow). If any infected droplet comes in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth it can cause you to become infected. COVID-19 virus droplets like to live on surfaces where they land, such as on countertops, remotes, door handles. The droplets can be transferred to other surfaces, such as door knobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, water faucets, gas pump handles, and other items.

How can I protect myself and others from getting infected?

Practice social (physical) distancing (like your life depends on it):

Practice good hygiene (like your life depends on it):

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms are:

Symptoms may also include:

When should I seek emergency medical attention?

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include*:

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

What should I do if I am not feeling well and think that I may have COVID-19?

I be tested for COVID-19?

How long will COVID-19 last?

Is there anything else I can do?

Is there a cure or vaccine available?


COVID-19 Resources

The World Health Organization provides a global overview of the coronavirus pandemic including information on safety, situation updates, and research guidance.

This site contains information about health, safety, and prevention on a national level.

For screening purposes you can use the CDCs COVI19 self- checker. This link also contains information on COVId-19 testing and who should get tested.

Children’s Oncology Group site has information for parents of children with cancer and for childhood cancer survivors on COVID-19.

Note: These sites update their information frequently you’ll most likely want to subscribe to them to receive daily updates. Another good place to get information is your local TV news networks, even if you ditched your cable provider you can sign up and access updates on your mobile phone.  Many of the streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV Stick have their own news channels which you can access for free.

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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