ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (FOX) – The COVID-19 outbreak has placed the nation on hold as medical professionals work around the clock as they work to stop the spread of the contagious virus. Reporter Chris McKee sits down with Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman with Presbyterian Healthcare Services to discuss what work is being done in New Mexico to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Q: How are things going here in terms of what you see when it comes to combating COVID-19 in New Mexico?
A: “So, our health systems across the state have been gearing up for this since the end of February and I think we’re in an excellent state of readiness. What we’re seeing in terms of the data across the state, and particularly comparing to how COVID is expressing itself, compared to the rest of the nation, the central southwest is really doing very well in terms of case counts compared to the west coast and compared to most of the country east of the Mississippi River. Over the weekend, New Mexico recorded 65 total cases. This is a cumulative count, not the count of active cases with over 5,000 tests being performed so our numbers are relatively low compared to the rest of the country and we’re working hard to keep it that way. The governor’s order last week on closing mass gatherings and encouraging social distancing including the closing or curtailing of many retail opportunities and closing down of many restaurant dining rooms goes a long way in the public health measures that will really help in reducing the spread of this infection.”
Q: How infectious is COVID-19?
A: “So, what we know about this virus, in particular, is informed from the international community from the time of outbreak in China, through the progression in the Middle East and in Europe, we know that this is transmissible very similarly to influenza. So respiratory droplets from a cough or a sneeze of those that are infected and similarly hand to hand contact from droplets that settle on surfaces in the vicinity of those that are infected and then are touched by other people within that vicinity and are introduced to the facial area, the nose, the mouth, the eyes. In terms of the number of people infected, it’s very similar to influenza in epidemiological terms. It’s nowhere near as infectious say as measles is. Measles, a single person can infect up to fifteen other individuals whereas the flu and coronavirus typically it’s two or three individuals can be infected by one actively infected individual. So it is important that we follow those same types of practices we use for flu around washing our hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. That we cover our cough and our sneeze which is called cough etiquette and additionally that we practice this social distancing and mass gathering practices so that we’re just in less close proximity to each other. Particularly knowing that there have been some documented cases of asymptomatic carriers with COVID-19.”
Q: How does this virus spread?
A: “Again, it typically spreads as a result of somebody who’s been infected who coughs or sneezes, maybe touches their own face and then touches other surfaces or if they don’t cover well when they cough or sneeze having those droplets settle on high-touch surfaces. That’s why it’s important to greet each other with the verbal greetings instead of a handshake or an elbow bump rather than a handshake. Those are the things that help to reduce that contact to contact surface you could say hand to hand in reducing the spread. The social distancing comes from the science of droplet spread that over six feet of distance typically as those droplets get into the air around us and begin to settle they don’t tend to cause infectious spread beyond six feet. So that’s where the recommendation comes from to avoid that close proximity where those droplets might still be inhalable or settle on surfaces.”
Q: What are the things people should not be doing right now?
A: “So the things we want to avoid doing are getting together in groups that are outside of our daily household contact. Spending time at large gathering places that do remain open like the grocery store, other retail outlets for day to day needs. We want to try to go during times of day that are less busy so there’s less crowding. We certainly want to avoid standing in long lines because that tends to put us closer than six feet. If we need to dine out then we need to order ahead or use drive-thru windows and pick-up to go orders rather than planning on dining in the dining room of restaurants. It is okay to actually be outdoors and getting fresh air. The great outdoors has a great diluting effect when it comes to exposure to germs and we do want to try to avoid that close contact meaning fifteen minutes or longer within that six-foot zone is what we consider significant contact.”