Viruses and germs are her specialty, and she's spent an entire career working on preventing the spread of disease to keep the community well. While all outbreaks have challenges, the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, have been a once-in-a-century battle for nurses and Infection Prevention specialists like Stefanie Bartley, BSN, RN. She and her colleagues work each day to prevent the spread of the disease through surveillance and education—working collaboratively with clinical colleagues at Augusta Health, Public Health and patients.
Is Social Distancing Working? How do we know if we are really 'flattening the curve'?
There are several indicators that social distancing is having an impact on the incidence of COVID-19 in our community.
The first is our model that we review every day. It's encouraging to see the projection going flatter and further out each day. And it's especially encouraging to see that the shortages have been eliminated as we look forward: In Virginia, we no longer see bed shortages or ICU bed shortages. That was not the case when we started using the model.
It's also encouraging to see that, as we're able to test more and more patients, we are holding steady on the number of positive results we are seeing—and that's a good indication that people are staying home. If they weren't, we'd be seeing acceleration in the percentage of positives, but we're holding steady. That means people are listening, they are staying home, and the spread is being reduced.
Through our calls to the Call Center and visits to the Assessment Center, we've notice that the community seems to have a great knowledge about the symptoms of the disease and the need to social distance. So what our community has learned, and their willingness to follow the advice, have both had an excellent impact on flattening the curve.
Since it's had an impact, can we let up now?
No, absolutely not! It's working, and although it's hard at times, we need to stay the course. It's difficult at times, and everyone wants to know when we'll be back 'to normal' , but there's no magic answer yet. We'll continue our surveillance, and at some point we'll begin to see fewer and fewer people with symptoms, and we'll know it's slowing. But it's too early to know when that will happen.
This is a novel, or new, virus. We don't know how it will progress or evolve, so we can't stop taking precautions. We can look to other communities to see how COVID-19 progresses there, but each will be different. We had an advantage because we were able to put many precautions such as closing schools and issuing shelter-in-place (stay at home) orders BEFORE the virus hit our community full-force.
But if we let up now, we will lose that advantage. We need to keep social distancing—because it's working!
So what actions should we be taking now?
There are three actions that work together to keep COVID-19 from spreading: Social Distancing, Wearing Masks, and Hand Hygiene—or washing your hands.
Social distancing—staying home as much as possible and keeping a six-foot distance from others—that protects you from other people. Hand in hand with that is to wear a cloth face mask as the CDC recommends, whenever you are public and especially in places where it might be difficult to keep that six-foot distance, like in a grocery store. Something most people find surprising is that the primary job of the mask is to protect other people from you! It holds your droplets in—so if you don't have symptoms, but are a carrier of the virus, the mask will contain your secretions and protect those around you. There may be some residual benefit to you, but the primary benefit is that it stops the spread of a virus you aren't aware you have to others.
Finally, continuing washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces. The virus can live on surfaces. You need to wash your hands to eliminate the impact on anything you've touched before you touch your face.
What else should we know about Social Distancing?
Now that we're seeing a higher incidence of COVID-19 in our community, it's really important to let your family and friends know if you have been tested or have been confirmed positive so they can take the actions needed to prevent the spread.
They need to begin to monitor themselves for symptoms and stay home and social distance as much as possible for 14 days. If they must go out, they MUST wear a mask to contain their secretions. You can be contagious for two to 14 days and not have symptoms. So even if you're not feeling sick, you might make someone else very sick. Be mindful, let your friends and family know what's going on with you, and help to stop the spread.