Dr. Susan Hoover answers commonly asked questions on coronavirus

South Dakota confirmed its first cases of the new COVID-19 disease, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced. As of March 18, 11 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota, including one person who has died.

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the Good Samaritan Society and Sanford Health are based, infectious disease specialists have been leading preparations for the virus to reach the community. Dr. Susan Hoover, infectious disease physician and medical director of infection control in the Sanford Health Sioux Falls region, answers commonly asked questions about the disease.

FAQs about coronavirus

What’s the most important message everyone should know?

The risk to the general public is still relatively low, Dr. Hoover said.

“This is an evolving situation. This virus has been known for about two months. I think we have never been in a position to know so much, so early in the course of an illness. So, the more we know, the more we want to know, but there are still a lot of answers we don’t have yet. 

“We continue to see more cases in the United States. We see them in new locations and different parts of the country, but most of the cases are still associated with people who traveled overseas to one of the well-known countries, internationally, that are having more transmission.”

What trusted sources do you rely on for COVID-19 information?

“It is very important to try and get the best facts you can. Some reliable sources would be the CDC website, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. The WHO website internationally, the World Health Organization. We at Sanford Health are also trying to become a reliable source by keeping our website up to date with information that the public needs to know, and with links to other places to find reliable information.”

Who can test for the virus?

“Health departments in every state are able to test for this virus. I want to emphasize that is the state health departments. Every hospital, every clinic does not possess this test at this point. Testing is very much coordinated through our state epidemiologists and state labs.”

What are the most common symptoms?

“The most common symptoms have been fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Some people will have upper respiratory symptoms, like a stuffy nose or a sore throat. A few people will have gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. But, those first three, cough, fever, and shortness of breath, seem to be the most predominant at this point. That’s what we’re emphasizing people to look out for.”

Can I still travel?

Inside the United States, the answer is yes — for now.

“People call in having traveled to just about anywhere and are concerned. We’re trying to emphasize that the most high-risk travel would be to the places that are now listed by the CDC.”

According to the CDC, China, Iran, and most of Europe is experiencing “widespread sustained spread,” and entry into the United States from those countries is suspended. Ongoing spread is also confirmed in South Korea, and non-essential travel should be avoided.

“This could certainly change from day-to-day, and week-to-week, but those places that are having a lot of transmission are the most concerning. The CDC doesn’t have any recommendation against travel domestically within the U.S.”

What are the do’s and don’ts of everyday coronavirus preparation?

“Keep yourself healthy. I cannot emphasize this enough: If you are sick, stay home. If you have an appointment with someone and they say they’ve been feeling sick, please postpone it. Tell them it’s all right to do that. If your kids are sick, please keep them home from school.

“You might end up having to stay home for a week or two. So, if you should become sick and are trying not to go out, do you have some food in your house? Do you have some tissues, soap, things for your kids to do, something for yourself to do?

“Things not to do: there is no value to wearing a mask around if you are healthy. That has not shown to reduce the transmission of any respiratory illness and masks are needed in health care and also for sick people. For people who are sick, a mask does help to contain respiratory droplets. That’s why we ask patients with respiratory illnesses to put on a mask when they come in our clinics. For healthy people, it’s not needed.”

How long can I expect to be sick if diagnosed with COVID-19?

“This is very much evolving. The duration of the illness is probably a week or two. There’s some guidance from the CDC about when a person could be released from isolation. It has to do with a person recovering, feeling better, symptoms being gone and testing negative multiple times.

“I’d say it’s very early yet to say for sure, but at the moment, the CDC is suggesting when they’re feeling better, when their symptoms have gotten better, and when they’ve had some negative tests done.”