As six former State Health Directors for North Carolina, we are speaking with one voice to urge each North Carolinian to take three critical steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. We acknowledge that for many, these recommendations may be more difficult to follow. Barriers like lack of health insurance and paid sick leave and limited telework options can create additional hardships for many families.
Step One: Join the #StayHome movement. Do your best to limit contact with others by only going out for food, medicines, to exercise, or to take care of essential concerns.
Step Two: Stay informed from reliable sources like www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov. Listen to your public health leaders at the state, local and national levels and your health care providers.
Step Three: Don’t seek testing for COVID-19 if you have a mild illness. We know this recommendation may come as a surprise. However, the vast majority of people who get COVID-19 will have mild illness and recover at home. When people leave their home for testing, they could expose themselves to COVID-19 if they do not already have the infection. If they are infected, they can expose someone in the community, including people who are at high risk, or a health care worker. We need to reduce the chances for further spread and protect our health care system, so it is there when people need it most.
If you’re not sick enough to need medical care, a positive COVID-19 test will not change what you or your doctor do. Anyone who has fever and signs of respiratory illness including cough should stay home until at least 7 days after the first day of illness AND until they have been without fever for three days and other symptoms are improving. People who have been in close contact with an ill person are urged to stay home as much as possible and monitor themselves for signs of illness. During this phase of the outbreak, testing is most important for severely ill patients, health care workers, and persons in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations.
Testing also places significant strain on supplies like masks and gowns that we will need to meet the expected rise in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization. We have a deep gratitude to the health care workers, first responders, and public health workforce who are working around the clock to keep others well. We need to do our part by not adding to the overwhelming caseloads they are beginning to face by taking these three critical steps: stay home, stay informed, and seek medical care and testing only if you have significant symptoms.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that we are all interconnected and that we must commit to actions that keep our communities healthy. Together we will make it through these challenging times and emerge stronger and more prepared.
This commentary was signed by former N.C. State Health Directors Robin Gary Cummings, MD, Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, Jeff Engel, MD, Laura Gerald, MD, MPH, Ron Levine, MD, MPH and Hugh Tilson, MD, DrPH.