State has 3 more COVID-19 cases; doctors answer questions during virtual forum

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday he is signing an executive order that prohibits events in Connecticut with more than 250 people. It also allows schools to end by June 30 even if there have been fewer than the typically mandated 180 days, clarifies visitor restrictions at nursing homes, authorizes the DMV to extend renewal deadlines, and relaxes attendance rules at the police academy.

So far, six people — included one child — have tested positive for COVID-19, out of the 95 the Connecticut Department of Public Health State Laboratory has tested.

The governor's announcement came shortly after a virtual community forum that Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, held with doctors to answer constituents' questions about COVID-19, dispel myths, and encourage precautions.

The forum originally was scheduled for Thursday evening at the Stonington Community Center, known as the Como, but was changed to a Facebook Live event in the afternoon. The video is available at facebook.com/senatorsomers.

The forum involved Somers asking questions she got via email and Facebook to Dr. Kevin Torres, associate chief medical officer of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital; Dr. Alin Bortin, infectious disease specialist; and Dr. Mark Somers, chief of cardiology at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, who is Somers' husband. Some of the questions were:

How do I know if I have the virus, and what if I can't get tested?

Coronavirus symptoms can include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, but Torres said the difficulty of knowing whether you have the coronavirus is that the symptoms are like those of the flu. But if you're having trouble breathing or keeping down fluids, that's greater cause for concern.

Torres said symptoms can show up anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.

The only people who are getting tested are the ones sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, Torres said. It takes 48 hours for test results to come back, and he said L+M hopes to expand outpatient testing over the next few days as it works with Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp.

Why is there no pandemic like this with the flu?

"The pandemic means usually a new kid on the block, a new virus appears, and that takes the population by surprise," Bortin said. This "happens every 10 to 15 years, when there is a shift in the configuration of the virus."

He said the idea is to keep the numbers down, not to become an "amplifier" or "antenna" and allow the virus to spread.

"I call it rolling out the virus rather than having it dumped on us," Sen. Somers said. This parallels the rhetoric of "flattening the curve," so the number of daily cases are drawn out and therefore don't overwhelm the health care system.

Dr. Somers said that while there was a bad flu pandemic in 1918, another reason we don't have flu pandemics is because of the success of the flu vaccine.

Why all the closings for a virus that is less serious than the flu?

Torres and Bortin pushed back on this, saying they disagree that this is less serious.

Torres said "we won't know how serious it's going to be yet," and Bortin noted that the coronavirus is much more infectious. Bortin said COVID-19 can be transmitted at a greater distance than the flu.

"It's going to be easy to second-guess what's being done," Dr. Somers said. "Everyone's doing their best based on the information that we have, but it's transmitted person to person, so the more you keep people away from people, the less likely it is. You're never going to make it to zero."

Bortin later added, "It may look overkill right now, that we're limiting this and we're limiting that and we're limiting people gathering and we're limiting social gatherings and we're all taking a hit, an economic hit, but it will all play well in the end."

What's the mortality rate?

Bortin said the mortality rate is about 3% in the global population, though some public health experts have said it may be lower, as people with milder symptoms begin to be tested.

But Bortin noted it varies by country, saying as of Wednesday, Singapore had 130 cases and no deaths while Germany's mortality rate was 1 in 500.

How long will the virus be around?

The flu "exists and ravages in the winter months and almost disappears in the summer," Bortin noted, and he expects the same with the coronavirus. He commented that most cases are in the northern hemisphere, where it's winter, and that the cases in Australia have been imported via travel.

What can I do to boost my immune system and make sure I'm not more susceptible to catching the coronavirus?

"Wash your hands. Wash your hands after every person you meet," Dr. Somers said. "Hand washing is so important. Masks are not worth it if you're not infected."

You've probably heard that a good length of time to wash your hands is the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday," and Dr. Somers thinks you should go with the slow, Marilyn Monroe version.

Will the virus change so it becomes resistant to hand sanitizer?

No, Bortin said. But he added that while hand sanitizer is a good short-term solution when you lack access to water, hand washing with soap is better, partially because it's better for preventing dryness.

Dr. Somers said people shouldn't hoard, saying you don't need five years' worth of hand sanitizer and it's not fair to other people if you ask for a year's worth of medication.

e.moser@theday.com


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