The recommendations in this article are not medical advice but tips on how to travel with the current COVID-19 outbreak. It also provides specific information for Minerva cities. Several number reports are time-based. The author originally wrote the article on 3/7/2020 and has tried to input the most recent updates.
“What will you do if either of us gets infected with the coronavirus?” my flatmate asked while we chilled in our living room in the only district in Seoul that hasn’t had any confirmed COVID-19 case. I have written a lot about the COVID-19 virus and outbreak in several cities. Several articles have been published and shared but recently someone asked me about writing an article for Minerva. As I may travel to six of the seven Minerva rotation cities in the next couple of months, I thought it’s a great idea to gather information from each city to help not only me but also current Minerva students.
“Prevention is better than a cure, so you better start wearing a mask so I don’t get infected,” I encouraged my flatmate as she retorted that I was the one working in Gangnam while she mostly stays in Itaewon. When I first arrived in Seoul early this year, I was usually the only one walking around the streets with a mask since I am asthmatic and sensitive to pollution. Nowadays, nearly everyone on the street wears them. One of the most effective preventive measure is to avoid human contact and not travel but since that is not option for most of us, here are some quick tips (#heuristics):
Habits of Mind: How to prevent infection while traveling?
- #getvaccinated 💉: Once an approved COVID-19 vaccine is out, get vaccinated. Though several groups have announced animal testing of vaccines for COVID-19, one will probably not be available for at least another eight months to a year. Still, stay up-to-date on available vaccinations since most of those who have died were also suffering from other diseases that led to heart or liver failure. If you can’t protect your lungs from COVID-19, you can protect it from the flu and you can protect your liver from hepatitis by getting vaccinations.
- #nophysicalcontact 🖖🏼: SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) spreads through droplets –which can be carried in the air up to six feet – as well as by coughing, sneezing, and touching surfaces it thrives on, including skin. So don’t shake hands, hold hands, hug, kiss. Don’t share food, cups, utensils, etc. Alternatively, you can do a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, or use a mask if you really want to hug or kiss someone.
- #useknuckles 👊: Use your knuckles to touch public switches like lights, elevator buttons, etc.
- #nosurfaces 🚪: Open doors with your closed fist or hip. Particularly in public areas, do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Alternatively, you can use disposable wipes, paper towels, or gloves.
- #handwashing 🧼: Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds and/or use a >60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure to rub your fingertips with the soap or sanitizer. Soap doesn’t kill viruses so rinsing thoroughly is the key to washing away any viruses. Then, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and to dry your hands. Remember to do this especially after using your hands to touch surfaces, before eating, and before touching any part of your face.
- #wipesurfaces 🛒💺: Wipe handles of store or luggage carts, seats, tables, etc. Wash your clothes regularly, wipe your phone, headphones, backpack, etc. One of the most fascinating things about viruses is that they can survive outside the host for days, so all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average.
- #healthyandfit💪: Eat well, sleep well, keep yourself hydrated (drink water) to prevent drying out your mucous membranes, which will make it less effective in blocking the virus. Shower or wash yourself and wear clean clothes before you sleep. Keep yourself as clean, healthy, and fit as possible so your immune system is ready to fight.
Fundamental Carry-ons: What to bring around or prepare?
Note: When I say to have these around, I don’t mean to hoard them. I mean it will be useful to have them around when you travel, especially when you’re in closed spaces like airplanes, public transportation, or in close contact with people.
- #sanitizer 🧴: Contrary to popular belief, most soap doesn’t actually kill viruses, so the best thing to do is to thoroughly wash your hands, dry them, and use a sanitizer with at least 60%-based alcohol. While many think alcohol doesn’t kill viruses, which is true for rhinoviruses and noroviruses, coronaviruses have an envelope structure that can be destroyed by alcohol.
- #wipes 🧻: Use wipes or disposable gloves when touching surfaces in public. Use disinfecting wipes to regularly surfaces, especially your phones.
- #masks 😷: Disposable or reusable masks to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (On average, people touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth – it is only to keep you from touching your face. N95 masks are the best at blocking particles, but are not recommended because wearing them actually increases your likelihood of touching your face, especially if you’re not used to wearing such masks or haven’t been properly fitted. So, use surgical or cloth masks! Dispose of or wash them properly after every use.
- #medicine 💊: OTC drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen are first line defenses that alleviate fever and pain. Zinc lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning.
- #hotline 📲: Save or remember the CDC hotline for your city or country. Depending on the country, they might have designated COVID-19 facilities or you might just have to contact the nearest hospital. So, it is also good to save your primary care’s number or the Foreigner (English) hotline of the nearest hospital.
Helpful information on the COVID-19 situation in each city:
San Francisco, U.S.
- How many cases? 14 (as of 3/12/20)
- What are they doing about the virus? San Francisco has confirmed cases of COVID-19. We are doing everything we can to protect public health of the community and prepare for the community spread of this virus. For official updates about the coronavirus text COVID19SF to 888-777 or visit this website.
- Hotline: 311 (CDC service number was listed for coronavirus as of 3/7/20) or 1 (628) 217 – 6260 (returning traveler line)
- How to get tested? There is no on-demand testing for COVID-19. Healthcare providers, in consultation with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, will determine whether testing for COVID-19 is medically necessary for an individual. At this time, only people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 would be considered for testing. More can be found here.
- Travel regulations can be found on the CDC website
- For more info, visit the SF CDC website
Seoul, South Korea
- How many cases? >7,000 (as of 3/12/20) in South Korea and 2 confirmed cases Yongsan
- What are they doing about the virus? South Korea has been doing a great job containing the epidemic. They have tested >150,000 people, testing around 20,000 people per day, giving updates every 6 hours. They have a central hotline, designated health centers, and drive-thru testing centers. They provide free testing and treatment even to undocumented foreigners (and will not report them to immigration). They disinfect public transportation every day, disinfect office buildings every week, and disinfect everywhere a confirmed case has visited. They provide alerts every time a case is confirmed in your area (according to phone number), for English translations, check the Itaewon Global Village Facebook page. I am biased, but I think Seoul is the best place to be in the midst of this outbreak and if you ever get infected.
- Hotline: 1345 (English) or 1339 (KCDC number) or 02-2199-8012~3 (Yongsan-gu Health Center)
- How to get tested? Call 1345 (English) and they will give you instructions to get tested. You can also go to the Health Center but it’s best to call first so you don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to risky spaces (hospitals, public places, etc.)
- Travel regulations found (though only in Korean) here.
- For more info, go to the Korean CDC website
- How many cases? 56 (as of 3/12/20) in India, 2 cases in Hyderabad
- What are they doing about the virus? More than 600,000 people have been screened at the country’s 21 airports and 77 seaports, according to Health Minister Vardhan. More than 27,000 people living in five states near the border with neighbouring Nepal have been put under surveillance and a million people tested in the area, he said. And India is setting up a screening lab in Iran to test returnees. For more, check out the press information bureau’s website
- Hotline: +91-11-23978046 (Ministry of Health COVID-19 line), +91-93213-98773 (AI Chatbot on WhatsApp), or www.coronacare.life
- How to get tested? Call the hotline if you suspect you have symptoms. Health authorities/ hospitals/ clinicians/ laboratories will collect appropriate clinical samples as indicated on their informational page.
- Travel regulations can be found here.
- For more info, visit the Ministry of Health’s website.
- How many cases? >600 (as of 3/7/2020), 24 in Berlin
- What are they doing about the virus? The head of the German Hospital Federation said that hospitals are “in the best possible position” to deal with the virus and that they are already preparing for an increased number of patients. Progress has also been made with regards to coronavirus tests. They are currently being carried out in university clinics, private laboratories, doctor’s offices, large hospitals and other institutions. Read more here.
- Hotline: 116117 (Emergency Medical Service), +49 30 9018-33208 (Health Authority – Mitte), 0800 011 77 22 (Patient Advice Service)
- How to get tested? Call the hotline or your local health department. The attending physician decides whether a patient should be tested. By and large, health insurance funds have been covering the cost of coronavirus testing since 28 February 2020.
- Travel regulations: There is currently no entry ban for travelers from China or other countries in Germany. Passengers from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy are required to provide information on their flight and their intended whereabouts in the 30 days after landing on the exit cards. Information on symptoms and risk exposure can also be recorded for travelers. Conspicuous people can be questioned further and examined if necessary.
- For more info, visit the Health Ministry’s website.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
- How many cases? 21 (as of 3/12/20), 9 cases in Buenos Aires
- What are they doing about the virus? Government scaled up controls on detecting potential cases of the disease on flights from Italy, where >10,000 individuals have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Precautionary measures have kicked in at Ezeiza International Airport, Argentina’s main terminal, to avoid the spread of the disease. Flights from Italy are now landing in a separate area and passengers flying from Italy must have their temperatures taken upon arrival in Argentina and sign an affidavit confirming they have not felt any symptoms. Suspected patients were also being hospitalised.
- Hotline: 107 (SAME- Sistema de Atención Médica de Emergencias)
- How to get tested? Stay at home, call 107. They will refer you to a health centre.
- Travel regulations: No travel bans but airlines have cancelled flights to and from Italy.
- For more info, read this article from the BA Times.
- How many cases? 456 in UK (as of 3/12/2020) and 104 in London
- What are they doing about the virus? As of 9am on 11 March 2020, 27,476 people have been tested in the UK, of which 27,020 were confirmed negative and 456 were confirmed as positive. The UK is one of the first countries outside China to have developed their own laboratory test for this new disease. Six patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died. For more, check out the government’s webpage on COVID-19.
- Hotline: 111 or use this online tool https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19
- How to get tested? Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital. Call 111 if you need to speak to someone. Healthcare professionals who are contacted by a patient with symptoms following travel to an affected area have been advised to submit samples to PHE for testing. Individuals should be treated in isolation.
- Travel regulations can be found on the government’s webpage.
- For more info, see the government’s action plan.
- How many cases? 49 (as of 3/12/20) in Taiwan
- What are they doing about the virus? The CECC rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items including border control from the air and sea, case identification (using new data and technology), quarantine of suspicious cases, proactive case finding, resource allocation (assessing and managing capacity), reassurance and education of the public while fighting misinformation, negotiation with other countries and regions, formulation of policies toward schools and childcare, and relief to businesses. More can be found here.
- Hotline: 1922 (Communicable Disease Reporting and Consultation Hotline) , or 1957 (CDCC hotline)
- How to get tested? If any symptoms develop during the active monitoring period, please make sure to wear a surgical mask and notify the local health authority to help you seek medical attention or call the hotline.
- Travel regulations can be found on the Taiwan CDC website.
- For more info, visit Taiwan’s CDC website.
If you perform with at least a 3 in the Habits of Mind and Fundamental Carry-ons, you are very likely to survive even if you get infected. Still, after all of the preventive measures, you could get sick.
Survival #algorithm: What to do if I get sick?
- #stayhome 🛌🏿: Isolate yourself from other humans, while continuing the measures listed above (wear a #mask, #handwashing, etc).
- #checksymptoms🤧: The following are the common symptoms of COVID-19 – cough, cold, runny nose, sore throat, fever, shortness or difficulty in breathing.
- #callCDC 📞: Call the CDC hotline to be directed to the proper treatment facility.
- #gettested 🧪: If you’ve had symptoms, get tested. This might be different for different countries and it might be expensive in some countries. In that case, wait for a few days (at least 5 days, out of contact with people). That said, it is really important to know so you can get appropriate treatment even if it is not COVID-19.
- #managesymptoms 🤒: Work with healthcare authorities to manage your symptoms. Stay vigilant and track how your symptoms are progressing. If they are only mild, you are most likely going to be just quarantined at home. However, if it gets worse, call the CDC hotline or nearest emergency department or hospital.
Should I still be worried? Won’t the virus die off and burn out by the Summer?
One of the most common statements these days is that SARS-CoV-2 will be gone by April. Coronaviruses survive better in cool, dry temperatures because they have a layer of fat that protects the virus while in the air. Warmer temperature will break down this layer of fat and higher humidity increases moisture that will make it harder for droplets to travel in the air. Though it is true that warmer and more humid conditions are not ideal for SARS-CoV-2, it is unlikely the outbreak will end by April. The hope is for it to be gone by the end of spring, however, it is currently spreading in the southern hemisphere (Australia and South America has >100 cases), where winter is coming. If the outbreak is not contained there, then it is likely for it to come back to the north by fall. For now, don’t panic. Be prepared.