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I'm a Doctor and These Mistakes Could Get You COVID

Knowing the truth about the virus can save a life—yours, and someone else's, too.

As a doctor, I know that sadly the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. And as we all grapple to find some sort of solution, the best medical advice to prevent viral transmission stays the same: social distancing, hand washing, and face masks. You don't need to look any further than the White House super-spreader event on September 26th to identify the COVD mistakes. At this event, the top officials were seen hugging and kissing, sitting close together, and no one was wearing a mask. Even those who should be setting an example are making COVID mistakes, with disastrous consequences. The President himself became infected. 

Here are the COVID mistakes I beg you not to make. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


Mistake Number 1: Don't be Reassured by Negative COVID Test Results

Staff testing a driver for coronavirus

We have been led to believe the White House relied on daily COVID testing to keep the officials safe. This implies that if they tested negative, they were assumed not to be infected. Perhaps, as they felt safe, they thought no further special restriction measures were necessary. This is the first mistake.

In the early stages of the infection, people are most infectious and can test negative. The PCR test aims to confirm the presence of the virus in nasopharyngeal secretions. It should be taken at least 1 week after being infected. If it is taken too early, you can be infected and have a negative test. 2-9% of tests are false-positive tests. Depending on which test is used, the false negative rate can be as high as 29%.

After becoming infected, symptoms appear within 3-14 days, usually after around 4 -5 days. However, people are most infectious 2-3 days before they show any symptoms. It is certainly possible to test negative and be transmitting the virus.

RELATED: 11 Symptoms of COVID You Never Want to Get


Mistake Number 2: Don't Believe Anyone Who Says Mask-Wearing is Ineffective

girl wear medical face mask on sunny city street

I can't believe there is so much anger about being asked to wear a face mask. There is now a great deal of evidence that wearing masks helps reduce the spread of COVID infection.

For example:

  • Use of masks slowed the increase in the rate of growth of infection — A recent US study in the journal Health Affairs compared the growth-rate of COVID-19 infection between 8th and 15th May, in the 15 states plus Washington DC where mask-wearing had been made compulsory. The study found that after the date the mandate was introduced, there was a stepwise decline in the percentage growth of COVID infection.  After agreeing on the mandate, days 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, and after day 21, there was a 0.9, 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, and 2.0 percent decline in the COVID growth rate. The authors calculated that since the ruling on face masks had been agreed, over 200,000 cases of COVID infection had been prevented.
  • Countries where mask-wearing is mandatory, have lower death rates — Another recent research study compared the death rate from COVID-19 infection in 194 countries. They found a statistically significant lower death rate in countries where mask-wearing was compulsory. The death rate increased by 8 per week in those countries who had mandated the use of masks, compared to an increase of 54% in those which had not.
  • Mask-wearing by a COVID-19 positive passenger on a flight protected other passengers  — In one interesting case report, a man who had symptoms and subsequently tested positive to COVID-19 flew from Wuhan, China to Toronto. He wore a mask for the whole flight and none of the 25 people seated within 2m or in the rows around him, tested positive after active monitoring and testing at 14 days.

The CDC and the WHO recommend everyone should wear a face mask, when mixing with people who are not in your household, and you are in places where social distancing is difficult. 

If 80% of the population wore face masks this would have a better effect on reducing viral transmission than a full lockdown!


Mistake Number 3: Don't Think if You Wear a Mask You Can Forget About Washing Your Hands

washing hands in kitchen

Mask wearing is one of the important tools to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it can only be effective if you also continue to wash your hands, and practice social distancing. There has been a concern that as people adopt mask-wearing, they may feel safer, and stop handwashing so often. 

However, the virus is transmitted from hands to the face and mouth. Although the main method of spread is by inhalation of infected droplets, the aim is to prevent any virus particles entering your airways. Hand washing and mask-wearing complement each other.

A recent review in the BMJ concluded this does not seem to be the case, however, there has been very little research on this particular issue.

Please: Wear a mask, but also keep washing your hands.


Mistake Number 4: Do Not Believe Those Who Say Ditch the Restriction and Rely on Herd Immunity

Young friends having barbecue picnic in the nature, playing guitar, playing badminton, enjoying sunny summer day outdoor

You may have heard some people suggesting we should give up on all these restrictions, let the virus take its toll and rely on herd immunity. In fact, epidemiologists do not believe this is the solution. 

Herd immunity means that so many people in the population have had the infection, most have become immune, and the virus is unable to spread. We do not yet have a COVID vaccine, so the only way to achieve these levels of immunity would be to let the virus spread unchecked. 

Now here's the most important thing: For herd immunity to occur, 60-85% of the population would need to become infected. Because the virus has a high death rate, millions would die. And even when herd immunity antibody levels were achieved, the virus would continue to spread further.

The virus is most risky for those who are vulnerable, and it is impossible for all those who are vulnerable, to be completely isolated from society. Although the death rate is highest in older people, younger people die from COVID too. To date, 16,685 people aged 54 and under have died in the US with a COVID-related death (CDC). Don't think if you are young and you are reading this it doesn't apply to you—it applies to everybody.

The only way we can reduce the dramatic effects of COVID-19 on our population is by following medical advice—social distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing. There is no quick fix. It's hard work, and tedious, but it is effective, and we can all do it when we put our minds to it.

RELATED: I'm an Infectious Disease Doctor and Would Never Touch This


Mistake Number 5: Don't Believe Anyone Who Says COVID-19 Can be Cured

Donald trump thumbs up

President Trump has famously declared he is "cured of COVID" and is now "immune." In fact, this is misleading.

There is currently no cure for COVID-19. More than 150 drugs are being trialed around the world. Only two so far have shown promise—dexamethasone and remdesivir. Both of these were given to Mr. Trump. These drugs are regarded as potentially lifesaving, but this is not the same as being recognized as a cure.

  • Dexamethasone – The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY Trial) is a large UK, randomized trial involving over 12,000 COVID-19 patients, designed to assess the efficacy of different drug treatments. In July, the trial reported the use of dexamethasone, a powerful steroid, reduced deaths for patients on a ventilator by one third, and reduced deaths for those requiring oxygen by one fifth. However, dexamethasone did not reduce deaths in patients infected with COVID but who were not having any respiratory support before the drug was started.
  • Remdesivir  – This is an antiviral drug, used in the past to treat Ebola. The NEJM recently reported a randomized placebo-controlled trial of patients with severe COVID infection, comparing treatment with remdesivir, or a placebo. The remdesivir group had a shortened their recovery time by 5 days, compared to the placebo group. Mortality was 6.7% in the remdesivir group, and 11.9% in the placebo group. Although the authors calculated an overall 30 % reduction in mortality in the remdesivir group, this was not statistically significant, which means these study results could have occurred by chance. Although remdesivir looks promising, the drug needs to be fully evaluated by the regulators, for it to become a licensed treatment.

There is no magic remedy for COVID-19. If or when a cure is found, I'm sure it will be hailed from the rooftops! But for now, COVID-19 is incurable, and your best chance is to avoid becoming infected with it at all.


Final Thoughts From the Doctor

with sneezing at city street, woman without protective mask while spreading flu,cold, Covid-19

I heard someone screaming and shouting about not wanting to wear a mask on the radio the other night. I found it really upsetting and it's been on my mind.

If wearing a mask can prevent just one other person becoming infected, is it such a big thing to ask? Everyone is stressed right now, fed up with the restrictions, missing their old lives, suffering emotionally and financially.

Is it the combined stress of living with COVID that makes people so aggressive and unpleasant?  Or is it the mixed messages they get from the media? Or the myths they believe to be true? Or perhaps they don't understand the complexities of the pandemic? Or are they just downright rude, and belligerent?

10% of the population spread 80% of the infection. If that 10% would follow the rules—including wearing a mask—many people might have their jobs back by now and be living a much more normal existence. The 10% who won't comply—such as Mr Angry screaming on the radio—are kiboshing everyone else's attempts to get on top of this virus.

This is no joke, and no time for temper tantrums either. No one likes being told what to do. But all of us have to live together in society and pull together when times are tough, and not let childlike behavior get the better of us. 

Mask wearing may not stop you becoming infected, but it may well stop you inadvertently infecting someone else. Not wearing a mask is selfish. There are very few people who are truly exempt. One respiratory physician commented that if your breathing is so bad you can't tolerate wearing a mask, you shouldn't be leaving your home at all.

So, the last word: please don't make COVID mistakes, I beg you! Stay safe yourself, and keep those you love safe too. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer for Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

Deborah Lee, MD
Dr. Deborah Lee is a health and medical writer with an emphasis on women's health. Read more about Deborah