SPOKANE, Wash. — As the coronavirus spreads in Washington and nationwide, so does fear.
Many people, including KREM viewers, have been asking questions about COVID-19 on social media and beyond.
We then took those questions to health expert Dr. Payal Kohli, who works with KREM's sister station KUSA in Denver, Colorado.
Dr. Kohli has trained at the world's foremost institutions, including MIT and Harvard Medical School, where she received her medical degree with magna cum laude honors.
She is an internationally-recognized cardiologist and leader in cardiovascular research and disease prevention.
Here is what she had to say in response to some of the most pressing questions and concerns.
Q: Coronavirus continues to spread in Washington state. How many cases could we expect here?
A: Dr. Kohli told KREM that everyone person who gets the virus will infect an average of two three other people. This is referred to as "exponential threat," which means the number of cases grows exponentially.
The way we can interrupt that cycle is through separating people, which is known as social distancing.
Many people have also pointed out that the number of cases in Washington seemed to grow at an alarming rate. As of Friday, more than 74 people have died and more than 1,300 have tested positive for the virus statewide.
Dr. Kohli says Washington state is on the earlier part of the curve for the virus, which may be why there are so many cases in the state. She added that some epidemiologists say leaving the virus unchecked allows it to double every four to five days.
“I think [social distancing] is really our only hope at this point against the virus," Dr. Kohli said.
Dr. Kohli also added that data shows four out of five cases spread in China were people who did not know they had the virus.
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Q: Gov. Inslee is not ordering a shelter in place for Washington residents. Do doctors recommend shelter in place for containment of the virus?
A: Washington state has already enacted social distancing measures, such as temporarily shutting down bars and restaurants and further limiting the size of gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak.
Instead of focusing on a shelter in place order, Inslee said at a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday that he is most concerned right now about residents' economic problems.
Social distancing efforts are different than an official shelter in place order.
Dr. Kohli said the decision to order a shelter in place is complicated due to its economic social and psychological implications. However, from a scientific perspective, she said it would make a lot of sense for the governor to order this in Washington because it would "flatten the curve aggressively."
Q: Who is the virus affecting?
A: There are some misconceptions among the public that the virus only affects elderly people.
Dr. Kohli told KREM that data from China tells experts that people who are most likely to die from the virus are those who are over age the age of 65 or those with chronic health conditions, including asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
However, a CDC report issued Wednesday says 38% of hospitalizations in the United States are in people under the age of 65, along with 48% of intensive care unit admissions and 20% of deaths.
Dr. Kohli said it is the "wrong messaging" to say that only elderly people die from the virus or feel its effects the most.
“People die from this at any age," she added.
Q: What is the best way to treat the virus from home? Are there are drugs that are unsafe?
A: Dr. Kohli says medical professionals are recommending that people manage mild symptoms from home with over-the-counter medications.
However, those who are feeling short of breath or those whose symptoms worsen from one day to the next should call their doctor.
Experts in Europe say Ibuprofen can increase susceptibility to the virus and they have issued an advisory to only use Tylenol, Dr. Kohli said.
There is debate about this among professionals in the United States, but Dr. Kohli said people should start with Tylenol to treat symptoms to be safe since the evidence is inconclusive.
Q: How concerned are doctors about the shortage of ventilators, respirators and tests in the United States
A: Long story short — Dr. Kohli said she and other health professionals are very concerned about the shortage of vital medical supplies.
She said that she is personally frustrated by the shortage, adding that there are not enough respirators to protect doctors at some hospitals nationwide. Instead, they are using regular face masks, which are "not effective."
There is also an anticipated shortage of ventilators used to treat patients. Dr. Kohli said about three to five percent of people who get the virus will need ventilators if the virus continues to grow at its current rate.
This could be even more of a problem if healthcare workers who do not have proper protection contract the virus.
"If you don’t have healthcare workers to run the ventilators, it doesn’t make a difference," Dr. Kohli added.
This is why social distancing is important, she said, so we can stagger out when people get sick to ensure that resources are available.
Dr. Kohli said some hospitals nationwide do have stockpiles of resources, but many are "profit-driven" and unprepared for surge capacity.
She worries that the United States will face a situation like the one in Italy, where doctors are making tough ethical decisions about which patients should get a ventilator.
“I don’t think the federal government has been able to pinpoint a plan," she said.