The global pandemic is having a serious impact on the cancer community, families and caretakers. As health officials continue to stress the importance of staying at home to help flatten the curve and wearing a face mask or covering whenever out in public, the stress and worry in many patients continues to rise. Cancer patients and those on chemotherapy or radiation treatments are at a much higher risk due to their weakened immune system. Therefore, it is important for all cancer patients, or the medically fragile, to track any symptoms you may be having and consult with your doctor right away.
The following questions have been answered by the CDC and National Institute of Health & we wanted to share this information with our clients. The news about this pandemic is constantly changing but doing what you can to keep yourself safe and healthy, as well as those around you, means you are doing your part in society to make the world a little better. Please be sure to check the updated news about the SARS-COV-2/COvid-19 outbreak by following the CDC link in the ‘Resources Used’ section below.
How can I protect myself and other from getting COvid-19?
From the CDC, here are things people can do to lower their risk of being infected, or infecting others:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds because it’s one of the best ways to kill germs on your hands and prevent the spread of germs to others. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth because if you picked up the virus, you could infect yourself by allowing the virus to enter your body.
- Avoid close contact or being within 6 feet (about 2 arms-length) of anyone, especially people who are sick, coughing, or sneezing.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or cough or sneeze into your elbow.
- Avoid shaking hands.
- Stay at home as much as possible and avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Avoid non-essential travel. Check with the authorities in your area or state. If you were planning on going outside the US, check the CDC travel guidelines which are updated often.
- If you are a cancer patient, survivor, or caregiver, talk to your cancer care team about whether there are any additional precautions you should take.
- Older adults are encouraged to take advantage of telehealth services and “see” their doctors without going in person for service. Medicare has opened and expanded coverage to ensure these types of appointments are also part of the individuals covered plan.
Should I be wearing a face mask?
The CDC now recommends that if you need to go anywhere in public where you come in contact with other people, you should have some sort of facial covering in place. Wearing a face mask is specifically recommended when going to the grocery store and pharmacy. The covering should cover your nose, mouth, and much of your face. If you want to make your own masks, there are many free patterns available online. For basic fabric masks, they require fabric (cotton/poly blend, or medical grade), thread, and elastic OR sewn ties. A sewing machine is beneficial and speeds the process up substantially. These masks can also be made with a pocket for an extra filter.
It should be noted that wearing a mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. It is still extremely important to keep a six-foot distance from others, even when wearing your face mask.
The CDC does not recommend that people in the general public wear surgical or N95 masks. These are in short supply and should be saved for healthcare workers who need them when caring for people who are sick.
Are there different recommendations for cancer patients and caregivers?
The CDC does not have specific recommendations on masks for people who have or have had cancer and their caregivers. But for many people being treated for cancer, especially with treatments like chemotherapy or stem cell transplants that can weaken the immune system, doctors often recommend patients wear a mask to help lower exposure to germs that might cause infections. If you are not sure if you or your caregiver should be wearing a mask, contact your doctor or another member of your cancer care team.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19, which may appear 2-14 days after being infected, are:
- Fever of at least 100.4oF (38o C)
- Shortness of breath
Some patients may have diarrhea or nausea before these symptoms occur.
Other symptoms can include:
- Body aches and pains
- Feeling very tired
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Loss of smell or taste
Contact your doctor or local health department if you have any of these symptoms.
If you or the person you’re caring for has any of the following serious signs and symptoms of COVID-19, get medical attention right away:
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Constant pain or heaviness in the chest
- New confusion or being hard to wake up
- Bluish lips or face
It’s important to know that some people who are infected with the virus might not have symptoms, but they could still spread the virus to others. Children might have fewer symptoms. Because of this, it’s important that everyone follow the CDC’s recommendations on how to protect yourself and others.
What else do cancer patients need to know about the coronavirus?
The COVID-19 outbreak is still new, so doctors do not have a lot of specific information on this coronavirus for cancer patients. But they do have a lot of information regarding the risk of infections in general for cancer patients.
Avoiding being exposed to this virus is especially important for cancer patients, who might be at higher risk for serious illness if they get infected. This is particularly true for patients who are getting chemotherapy or a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant, because their immune systems can be severely weakened by the treatment.
Does health insurance cover coronavirus testing and care?
You may or may not have out-of-pocket costs if you get tested for coronavirus or if you need medicines or other care for COVID-19. You’ll need to check with your health insurance company about coverage. Here is a tip to get you started:
- Call the toll-free number on the back of your insurance card
Should people still get screened for cancer during this pandemic?
Health officials are urging everyone to stay home as much as possible to further reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. What should you do if you are due for a cancer screening?
According to Dr. Richard Wender, Chief Cancer Control Officer for the American Cancer Society, “the American Cancer Society recommends that no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time.” This means if you’re due for your screening to detect breast, colon, cervix, or lung cancer, postpone your appointment for the near future. “Remember, these screening tests save lives. When restrictions lift, it’s important to reschedule any screening test that you’re due to receive,” says Wender. “Getting back on track with cancer screening should be a high priority,” he adds.
Screening tests are different from tests your doctor might order if you have symptoms that could be from cancer. If you’re having symptoms you’re concerned about, contact your health care provider about the best course of action for you at this time.
Can I get COVID-19 from a blood transfusion?
According to the American Red Cross, there is no evidence that this new coronavirus can be transmitted through a blood transfusion.
Donating blood is still possible for those who are healthy and feel well, and it’s greatly needed, according to the Red Cross. The COVID-19 outbreak and resulting social distancing has led to canceled blood drives and dramatic blood shortages in many parts of the country.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has information on donating blood and other things you can do to help during this pandemic.
Is there a vaccine against the new coronavirus?
There are no vaccines available yet against the virus that causes COVID-19. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on vaccines. The first clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine started in mid-March. However, it will likely be at least a year or a year and half before a vaccine might be available, according to the NIH’s Fauci.
Be safe during this pandemic, stay home if you can and be sure to check in with your doctor if and when you begin to feel sick!