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What Does the “Community Spread” of Coronavirus Mean?

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American health officials reported late February that a California woman had become infected with the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19), a new illness that has been spreading globally since late December. Up until that point, all confirmed U.S. cases had been people who had recently traveled to China, where the virus originated, or who had been in contact with others known to be infected.

To this day, no one is quite sure how the woman picked up the virus. She had not traveled to China, nor had she been exposed to someone known to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Therefore, she was the first reported case in the U.S. of what’s known as community spread. In other words, she contracted coronavirus from an unknown infected person in her community with whom she had come into contact.

At the time of the publication of this article, there have been more than 492,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide since the start of the outbreak. As these numbers continue to surge, so, too, does the number of other community spread cases that have yet to be discovered.

Why is the number of community spread cases growing?

The increase in community spread cases is due to a number of factors. The first is that there is currently a limited number of coronavirus tests, meaning individuals with symptoms of the virus – fever, cough and difficulty breathing – aren’t being tested. Another reason is that many people who contract the virus can be asymptomatic – meaning they don’t have symptoms of the illness – or have very mild ones that mimic those of a cold or the flu. Although they may not feel sick, they are still carriers of the virus and thus can easily spread it unknowingly.

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Because the coronavirus is more difficult to control once individuals are passing it to one another within the community, government officials and health experts across America have taken unprecedented action, such as closing schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses and canceling large gatherings such as festivals and concerts. Initiatives such as these have been known to lessen community spread, but there are also a number of ways you, too, can help to slow it.

How can we limit community spread of the virus?

  • Staying home
  • Social distancing: By avoiding public areas and crowded places and of staying at least 6 feet apart from others, you can help slow community spread
  • Practicing good hand hygiene
  • Working remotely when possible
  • Avoiding unnecessary travel
  • Using telehealth services rather than going to the hospital or doctors’ offices when appropriate
  • Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in your home and workplace
  • By practicing measures such as these, we can together help to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In early December 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their recommendations regarding COVID-19 exposure quarantine. While this doesn't apply to healthcare workers and other essential personnel, the guidance now states that quarantine can end after 10 days (rather than 14) with no testing and no symptoms. Quarantine can end after seven days with a negative test and no symptoms.

The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.

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