UPDATED APRIL 6, 2020
The number of people infected with the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, continues to rise, and is currently posing a serious public health risk. Everyone needs to be concerned about its spread, particularly cancer patients, cancer survivors, those with chronic health conditions, and anyone with a suppressed immune system.
On April 1st, Florida joined the list of states that ordering residents to remain in their homes for all but essential activities to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that will direct "all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or essential activities."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects that widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur, and in the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus. For the most current updates, visit the CDC website.
WHAT SHOULD CANCER PATIENTS KNOW?
Whether currently in treatment or not, cancer patients and survivors should talk with their doctors who understand their medical history about ways they can protect themselves during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is vital that patients and their caregivers take precautions to lower their risk of getting COVID-19.
While not everyone will get sick--and symptoms vary from mild to severe--according to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients have an increased risk of serious illness from an infection because their immune systems are weakened by cancer and its treatments. Also, some cancer treatments can cause lung side effects, which the virus may worsen.
The City of Hope states those who have “undergone bone marrow transplantation, especially those who have chronic graft-versus-host disease that requires treatment to suppress the immune system” and “patients undergoing active treatment (chemotherapy, radiation or surgery) are also likely to be at high risk for complications from infection.”
Oncologists at Fred Hutch state that even those out of treatment may want to be extra cautious as the risk extends beyond the period of active treatment and “the after-effects of cancer and the immunosuppressive effects of treatment can be long term.”
If there is an outbreak in your local community, remain at home as much as possible:
- Be sure to have a month’s supply of essential medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
- Ask your healthcare provider about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to remain home for an extended period of time.
- If the above is not possible, consider using mail-order for medications.
- Be sure to have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms.
- Unless symptoms become severe, most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
- Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
CDC's updated reccomendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings:
Recent studies show that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus do not have symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—when speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. Social distancing (of at least 6 feet) remains critical to reducing the spread of the virus, but in light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
The CDC cloth covering reccomendations are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. These critical supplies must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance. Learn how to easily make your own face covering at home.
What to do if you think you have COVID-19:
ASCO recommends that cancer patients who think they may have been infected with the COVID-19 contact their doctor if they have a fever and other symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as a cough or shortness of breath, particularly if either of the following 2 conditions apply:
- You have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19.
- You live in or have recently traveled to an area known to have an outbreak of the disease.
**Call ahead before visiting your health care professional or the emergency department and let them know that you think you may have COVID-19.**
- If you are receiving cancer treatment that suppresses the immune system and you develop a fever and respiratory symptoms, call your oncologist as you usually would if you develop a fever while on treatment. Be sure to follow their guidance on when to come into the office or hospital and when it’s safer to stay home.
- If you are scheduled for cancer treatments during the COVID-19 outbreak, speak with your oncologist about the benefits and risks of continuing or delaying treatment.
Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs and get medical attention immediately if any of the emergency warning signs listed below as they appear.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
What is COVID-19?
The COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were first identified when the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The name of this new coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. It has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally along with cases in all 50 states.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the CDC, “Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.” The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure:
- Fever of at least 100.4° F (38°C)
- Shortness of breath
Emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 that need medical attention immediately:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
How does COVID-19 spread?
The CDC states that the virus is thought to spread primarily from person-to-person between people who are in close contact (within approximately 6 feet). Spread can happen when a person with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes and small respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth land on objects, surfaces, or in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs.
The virus can survive on surfaces for hours and up to days. COVID-19 is then spread as others touch these objects or surfaces, then touch their eyes, nose or mouth or if they breathe in the droplets from a person with COVID-19, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
People who are infected often have symptoms of illness. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus.
Can someone spread the virus if they have no symptoms?
While it was previously thought that people were most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), emerging evidence suggests that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 might be spreading virus without recognizing, or prior to recognizing, symptoms.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19 is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces. Scientists found that SARS-CoV-2 was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The results provide key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.
How cancer patients can protect themselves from COVID-19:
According to The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), people who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 should:
- Avoid non-essential travel during this time of COVID-19 outbreak.
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact, and wash your hands frequently. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places, making sure to avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
- Avoid crowds to help decrease exposure to the virus.
- Clean and disinfect your home, routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces (tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, keyboards, & cell phones).
- Determine who can provide care if the caregiver gets sick.
For more information on COVID-19 in Florida, call the Florida information line at 866-779-6121 or visit Florida Department of Health’s website.
For coronavirus FAQs, visit https://faq.coronavirus.gov/
To stay up-to-date on COVID-19 or to find more detailed responses to common questions, please visit: