NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The spread of the novel coronavirus has people on edge, but CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook says there is a treatment for fear and it's called facts.
He points out that 8 in 10 cases of coronavirus are mild. Avoiding infection means washing your hands, including the tips of your fingers for 20 seconds, keeping your hands away from your face and sneezing into the crook of your arm and not into your hands.
We asked Lapook to answer some questions about the virus.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
"The big picture here is this is a time for science and for logic, not for fear and hype," LaPook said. "This is a kind of coronavirus which is spread by the respiratory route and there are some common sense things that people can do. For one thing, if you're sick, stay home. You know people think 'I'm going to tough it out, I'm gonna go and be a hero.' Be a hero and stay home. Don't get everybody else sick."
LaPook also stresses that you get the flu shot. "If you haven't already gotten it, please get the flu shot to protect you and your family because if you come down with the flu, those symptoms can be confused with coronavirus," LaPook said. "You may think you have coronavirus when you don't."
Also, follow some of the common advice your mom may have told you growing up.
"When you sneeze cover your mouth with the crook of your arm into your elbow. Don't be sneezing into your hand and then go reach out and shake somebody's hand or worst of all, don't sneeze out without covering your mouth at all. We see people walking down the street do that and you try to hold your breath as you're going by. Also don't put your hands above your neck. I know that's hard to do. You have stuff on your hands. You could somehow get virus on your hands, it could go into your mouth or your nose or even your eye. I just read an article last night they studied medical students and in one hour they touched their face 23 times."
WHAT ABOUT MASKS?
LaPook tells "CBS This Morning" that masks may provide some partial protection by catching droplets containing virus, but the virus is so tiny it can go right through the mask or around it. If you are sick, a mask might help protect others, but the CDC does not recommend it for routine use.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
"I think people need to be prepared for the fact that this is already spreading and we shouldn't be surprised when we see higher numbers. There's been a problem with not having enough kits. I just spoke with the CDC this morning and I think testing capacity will be about 75,000 by mid week and they don't know how quickly they'll be able to ramp it up. That's not enough really widespread national testing of everybody. Is it already here? And where is it? Is it in people who are minimally symptomatic? Have no symptoms? If you're not looking for something then you can't really get an idea of it's there. Absence of proof doesn't mean proof of absence. You have to be looking for it."
"I think right now pull the microscope back. We are in a time when people are afraid and I understand that, but the the antidote to fear is facts. We do have a very robust public health care system here, of course, it's very hard to stop something that's spreading by the respiratory route. If you've got young kids they come home with a cold — how long does it take before the whole family comes down with a cold? So we should expect that it is going to spread."
"I think people need to take a deep breath and try to realize that this is science, it's not a time for magical thinking, it is a serious situation."
WHAT ABOUT SMARTPHONES?
"I just looked at an old paper about this and it does look like the coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours or even days depending upon the condition and what whether it's plastic or metal. That is something that is being actively looked at. So then of course I went to a paper to see can you clean it and there are studies about using hydrogen peroxide and alcohol and other things to clean it. So it can be cleaned. You can disinfect surfaces."
WHAT'S THE MORTALITY RATE?
"The good news is that it looks like in China, 80 percent of the cases are mild. Now the rest can get serious, you get lung disease, so this is nothing to be flip about. It's gonna be a bumpy ride. Mortality rate looks like at the very last study to be about 1.4 percent for people who have actually been documented to have the COVID-19 infection. So that's better than the little bit more than 2 percent we heard of and it might be a lot less than 1.4 percent if it turns out that many more people have it than we realize. To say it's a tenth that, I'm just coming up with that number, it would be about .14 percent which is close to the .1 percent of mortality that you see with the flu. The flu again is something that people don't realize how deadly it can be. There are more than 30 million cases already in the United States, about 18,000 people have died this year from the flu. So everybody get your flu shot."
WHEN WILL A VACCINE BE READY?
Public health officials are on it, LaPook says.
"Everybody is trying as hard as they can. There are more than 1,300 CDC officials on it and I know that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases for the National Health Institute, he has been there at the front lines since HIV in the 80s and he has been through every one of these these outbreaks. I was with him covering Zika and Ebola. This is a major asset for the United States. He is a brilliant guy, very honest and I believe what he's telling us right now and they're working on it hard."
"In terms of a technological tour de force, it took 20 months to get a vaccine for SARS, down to three months for Zika and you know what they did for this?
"In about six weeks because they have a coronavirus that they're testing — it's not going to be ready for about a year at least in terms of being widespread — but it's in testing right now. The way they made it was they cannibalized the Zika vaccine. They screwed off the top of the part of the vaccine that was specific for Zika and they screwed on a part that was specific for coronavirus and BAM, it's already been shipped for testing. But again people shouldn't expect that there's gonna be a vaccine for at least a year."