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A COVID-19 screening tent is set up outside the Emergency Department at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. 

Dr. Bhagyashree Shastri, an infectious diseases specialist with Internal Medicine Associates of Aiken, who also treats patients at Aiken Regional Medical Centers, answers some common questions on COVID-19. 

Q. How does COVID-19 spread?

A. COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person in close contact with one another (generally within 6 feet) by droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Q. What does social distancing mean?

A. Social distancing means keeping about 6 feet from other people. This means avoid groups larger than 10 people. Everyone has a role to play to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing.

Q. What does flattening the curve mean?

A. This is an epidemiological term that new cases of COVID-19 are not being seen at a rapidly increasing rate and the spread of COVID-19 is slowing. When the spread of COVID-19 slows it may give us a chance to develop vaccines or treatments to help those not yet infected.

Q. What should people do if they believe they may have the virus?

A. Call your primary care physician and seek guidance. Your primary care physician’s office will direct you to the appropriate hotline or testing center. If you are ill and need to go to the emergency department, call ahead and let the ED staff know you are coming and may have exposure to COVID-19. This will allow them to prepare for your visit and help prevent health care workers from becoming ill with COVID-19 if you prove to have this infection.

Q. What precautions should people observe when they must go out in public, such as shopping for groceries?

A. If possible, stay home and away from other people. If you need to go shopping, spend as little time as you are able. Use hand sanitizers. Do not go out if you are ill with a respiratory infection.

Q. What are medical professionals and health experts predicting will happen with the COVID-19 pandemic in the next few weeks? Are cases expected to keep climbing?

A. We should continue to follow the CDC update as this situation is evolving day by day.

Q. How can the public support their local care professionals and medical centers during this time?

A. Think twice before seeking medical care in the ED, as all emergency rooms have seen an increase in patients. Call your doctor’s office first, and they may be able to help keep you healthy without the need for hospital care. Some hospitals are conducting blood donation drives. Check your hospital’s website to find more. Like the U.S. surgeon general said, “Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.” Learn about telehealth and the use of portals for virtual healthcare visits.

Q. Are there a significant number of infected patients that may be asymptomatic? Why are these kinds of patients cause for concern?

A. The epidemiological data is being collected and evaluated as we speak, so we should know more regarding this as the situation evolves.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.