Q: I'm confused about coronavirus. Why does everything we're told about COVID-19 seem to change?
A: The coronavirus pandemic and the response to it by both public and private sectors is like nothing else we have ever experienced in our nation's history, and it's easy to get confused by the volume of information we're given on how the virus can make us sick and what we should do to protect ourselves from it. Unfortunately, there is still much to learn about COVID-19. It is likely going to take several more months before it is known how to best treat and prevent the illness, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
Because the collective understanding of how coronavirus infects people and makes them sick has evolved over time, so too have recommended measures to protect against it. For example, COVID-19 was not originally thought to be contagious from asymptomatic persons. Masks were therefore not seen as an effective means of prevention, and because of the ongoing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), there was an interest in reserving the nation's limited supply for health-care professionals as they treated the sickest of the sick. Now that it is known that the coronavirus can spread from people who don't have symptoms, masks are recommended to prevent spreading the disease.
Children may also be at greater risk from COVID-19 complications than originally thought. It has been widely accepted from the inception of this outbreak that kids are at low risk for adverse health conditions caused by COVID-19. New information is casting doubt upon these perceptions, however. Health officials in multiple states are reporting childhood cases of an unknown inflammatory syndrome causing high fevers, inflammation and reduced function in at least one organ that may be associated with COVID-19. If this association is definitely established, you are likely to see a shift in recommended guidelines for children with respect to COVID-19 treatment and prevention.
Immunity from COVID-19 after infection and recovery is another topic that has left some people confused. As you may know, generally once someone recovers from a virus like measles or flu, they become immune to it for at least a period of time. However, it has not yet been proven that COVID-19 infection creates such immunity. And while it does seem likely that it does, it is not known if that immunity lasts weeks or months or years. For this reason, we cannot reassure anyone that people with antibodies to COVID-19 are protected for any period of time.
For additional information or questions you may have about COVID-19, call the Hamilton County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383.
— Dr. Paul Hendricks is health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.