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What is 'community spread' and why is coronavirus different from other illnesses?

Posted at 6:55 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 18:57:04-05

NEW YORK CITY — By now you've probably heard the term "community spread" when health officials talk about the Coronavirus. But what does that mean?

The CDC says it's when a virus spreads through an area and includes some cases where people cannot identify the initial source of their infection.

With the latest cases here in New York City and others around the United States, we've reached that point.

But health officials say there are things you can do to keep that community spread from spreading to you.

City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez took to the streets of Washington Heights to hand out flyers urging people to cover their mouths Wednesday morning.

Rodriguez told New Yorkers to be cautious, but not panicked. "Let's continue our normal life everyday," he said.

However if you feel sick health, officials are urging you to stay home.

Although spread of the virus might be possible without experiencing symptoms, the CDC says the people are most contagious when at their sickest.

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, there are ways you can protect yourself and others.

The CDC says to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces

"It's similar surfaces to what we see during flu season. It's door handles, it's cell phones, it's keyboards for computers or laptops, it's light switches, things like that," said Doctor Elan Levy.

Levy is the Associate Chairman of the Emergency Department at Lenox Health Greenwich Village. Despite the fact we've seen so many more deaths and cases of the flu, Levy says the simple reason we're hearing so much more about the COVID-19 strain of the Coronavirus is because it's a strain doctors haven't had to deal with in humans before now.

"The flu is something that we see seasonally and we prepare for seasonally. We have expected mortality rates and there's a vaccination out there, so there's some preventative measures that people can take. For COVID-19 this is a new virus that people really haven't been exposed to before and so something that has the potential to become more widespread. I think that's why there's a lot more information about it."

If you do get sick, in addition to all of the prevention steps, the CDC recommends:

  • Staying home except to get medical care
  • Separating yourself from other people and animals in your home

Especially older people or those who have other conditions like asthma, high blood pressure or diabetes.
"Even without symptoms, they may want to avoid close contact with people who may be at an increased risk for getting severe illness," Levy said.

Even if you have symptoms, there is no reason to panic if you're a generally healthy person. Most of the people who contract the Coronavirus will fight it off with their own immune system. Just make sure you isolate yourself to keep it from spreading further.