Published on March 22, 2020

Health officials answer coronavirus questions

By Jenny White, Staff Writer
Rocky Mount Telegram

The state Department of Health and Human Services on Saturday morning reported more than 180 positive COVID-19 coronavirus cases in North Carolina, an increase of about 45 over Friday.

Gov. Roy Cooper reported on Thursday that Wilson County reported the first case of the virus that is categorized as from “community spread,” which means the Wilson County Health Department could not track down where the person may have contracted COVID-19.

Here are some questions the Telegram asked local health officials and what their responses were:

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Fever, cough or another respiratory symptom like congestion or shortness of breath and fatigue.

For those with mild symptoms who are not in the high-risk population, most doctors will tell you to stay at home and self-isolate. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the majority of people who are infected with COVID-19 will have cold symptoms.

Higher risk populations are older adults and those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease

What do I do if I think I might have COVID-19?

Call your primary care physician or an urgent care facility before you go in for an exam. Over the phone, your condition will be triaged.

Dr. Martha Chesnutt, executive physician at Boice Willis Clinic, said you will be asked about your symptoms and whether you have a fever.

“This information will be used to determine what the next steps will be,” Chesnutt said. “Most COVID-19 cases will be able to be treated at home just like you’d treat a bad cold or the flu.”

What is the criteria to receive a COVID-19 test?

According to the CDC, a patient may meet criteria for a COVID-19 test if they:

  • Have had close contact within the last 14 days with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and have a fever or respiratory symptom like cough or shortness of breath, or
  • Have a negative flu test and fever and respiratory symptoms like cough or shortness of breath.

While there are strict criteria to qualify for a state COVID-19 test, Chesnutt said her practice and other physicians using commercial testing kits and labs can use clinical judgement on a case-by-case basis.

“Our tests are limited, so we still have to see some evidence of the virus to test,” she said.

How long does it take to get test results?

Three to five days.

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to the Nash County Health Department, the virus spreads mainly from person to person. People are thought to be most contagious when they are symptomatic with fever and cough.

Chesnutt emphasized that even people with no current symptoms but who have had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate and see if symptoms arise.

What if I do not have a primary care doctor?

Both Nash County Health Director Bill Hill and Edgecombe County Health Director Karen Lachapelle said anyone who has symptoms, does not have a primary care physician and needs help to determine how to get a test can call their offices.

What happens if my test is positive for COVID-19?

When someone tests positive, the physician will notify the county’s health department of the infection. Lachapelle said health department staff will contact the county residents who test positive and begin an investigation to try to find out where and when the person may have contracted the virus.

“We talk to the patient and try to find out all contacts they’ve had with other people for 10 minutes or more within 6 feet or closer,” she said. “We then try to contact those people in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.”

Patients will be given instructions on how to recuperate at home, stay isolated and when to call for additional medical care.

Chesnutt said a very important part of testing is isolating yourself while waiting for results.

“You need to self-quarantine until the test result returns and possibly longer if the test result is positive,” she said. “You will sign paperwork that you agree to this when the test is completed.”

How can I avoid catching COVID-19?

Stay home. Avoid groups of 10 or more people or places where groups have gathered. Wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face. If you have to cough, cough into a disposable tissue.

As of right now, there is no vaccine or medicinal solution to prevent being infected with the virus.

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