To help stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses, school districts, and entire industries have come to a screeching halt while Americans are being encouraged to practice “social distancing” and remain indoors. Furthermore, millions of others have been placed under a growing list of state-issued stay-at-home orders.
During a live Instagram chat with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Nurse Alice Benjamin, a cardiac clinical nurse specialist and emergency room nurse, opened about the novel virus and dispelled common misconceptions about COVID-19. She also took questions from viewers about a potential vaccine and talked about how the outbreak is affecting healthcare professionals.
Here are nine nuggets that “America’s Favorite Nurse” shared to empower the African American community to stay safe, healthy, and educated during the coronavirus outbreak.
1. Young People are Not Immune
Benjamin opened the discussion by addressing the misconception that young people are immune from contracting the coronavirus or becoming severely ill from it. Twenty-five percent of people testing positive for coronavirus are below the age of 35, she said. And although up to 80% of people who are carrying the virus are asymptomatic, she stressed that young healthy people are not invincible and can unknowingly spread it to the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.
2. Does Heat Kill the Virus?
When a viewer asked if heat kills the virus, Benjamin said that it’s likely that COVID-19 would become weaker in temperatures above 70 degrees just like many other viruses. However, experts warn against being overly optimistic that the virus will die down over the summer since COVID-19 is too new to have any firm data on how cases will change with the seasons.
3. You Probably Don’t Need To Be Tested
Benjamin advised people not to hastily seek a coronavirus test at a hospital, where they run the risk of being exposed to sick people and their germs.
“If you’re not showing symptoms, you don’t need to go to the emergency room,” she said. The nurse went on to deter those who want to take the test out of curiosity to “stay your butt at home.” Only seek medical help if you are elderly, have a chronic health condition, or are experiencing shortness of breath on top of other coronavirus symptoms, she said.
4. Don’t Self-Medicate
She cautioned against taking medicines like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which is being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19, without consultation or direction from a medical expert. Some people have actually died by misusing these medicines, she said.
On the other hand, she said someone who is showing mild symptoms would be better off eating fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and herbal teas, taking zinc and other vitamins, and diligently washing their hands and disinfecting things in their home.
5. Cannabis May Make You More Susceptible to Falling Ill
Cannabis has many healing properties and medicinal uses, but Benjamin said now is not the time to smoke it on a continual basis. In fact, she said avid marijuana users may be at a higher risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 since it’s a respiratory disease and smoking can weaken the strength of your lungs.
“Anything that we expose our lungs to that it isn’t naturally exposed to puts us at risk,” she said. Your lungs might not be as strong “if you are over here smoking cigars and weed every day.”
6. Stop Inviting Friends Over to Make TikTok Videos
Social distancing is the best way to stop the spread of the virus. However, some people aren’t taking the recommendation seriously.
“Social distancing—that means staying at least 6 feet away from other individuals.” It also means eliminating quality time with family and friends. “When you invite people into your home, you’re inviting everything that comes with them, virus included. They may be asymptomatic and you might try your best to stay 6 feet away from them, [but] can they still cough and you get close enough? Yes. Can they touch a surface that you touch later? Yes.”
Instead of inviting company over, the California-based nurse suggests that people use this alone time to work on personal projects. “Sit your butt at home,” she repeated. “Stay at home and do all the things you didn’t have time for.”
7. Don’t Expect This To End By Easter
Despite the fact that President Trump is pushing to relax social distancing guidelines by Easter, Benjamin said that timeline is not realistic nor would it be in the public’s best interest. “This whole thing about everybody being off by Easter? I don’t think that’s happening.”
She added that officials in New York and other densely populated areas should enforce stay-at-home orders longer than other regions in order to flatten the curve. “New York has been hit the hardest,” she said. “They will have these interventions much longer.”
8. Big Pharma Companies Will Profit From the Pandemic
At another point during the chat, the nurse pointed out that the price of a promising coronavirus treatment known as chloroquine doubled in late 2019, just weeks before the outbreak morphed into a global pandemic. As a result, she noted that high-priced medicines will be less affordable to working-class people.
“If you spike the costs on something, it no longer becomes accessible,” she said. “Shame on the pharmaceutical companies, especially at a time like this.”
According to StatNews.com, Rising Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based drug company, hiked the price of its chloroquine phosphate tablets 98% between December 2019 and January 2020, from roughly $3.87 to $7.66 for a 250-milligram tablet. The company later slashed the price in half in March following growing interest in the drug and after stories about the price-hike erupted.
Furthermore, Benjamin added that pharmaceutical companies will not release vaccines to the public unless they are profitable. “There is definitely a money factor that plays a role in the production of these vaccines,” she said. Pharma companies invest millions of dollars to create a vaccine and they want to make sure their costs are offset and they are compensated for their work, she explained.
However, that’s just part of the reason why medical experts estimate that it may take 18 months before a COVID-19 vaccine is created. Vaccines must undergo vigorous testing to ensure they are safe before they can be mass distributed, she said.
9. Appreciate Healthcare Workers
Later in the conversation, the nurse urged the public to treat healthcare workers with kindness, patience, and respect. “Healthcare providers are on the front line. We are putting you first to take care of you.”
However, she said people are getting frustrated with the wait times and taking out their frustrations on healthcare workers. “I have felt unappreciated,” she admitted. “People are mad, they want their test results, they want to be seen.” She added, “I never take things personal, but sometimes, at the end of the day, it can be heavy.”
Even though hospitals are nearing the point of being overwhelmed, she asserted that staff is doing all they can in this time of crisis. “I don’t always have control of the supplies, the amount of equipment that we have. I wish I could make the lab test run faster,” she said.
“What I wish people understood is that we’re trying to keep up with the demand as much as possible,” she continued. “Saying thank you goes a long way.”