By Pedro Díaz

This is an exclusive interview with Dr. Martin Aróstegui who explains many facts about this virus which is causing a worldwide pandemic. Dr. Arostegui is a retired medical specialist certified in three separate specialties who was Chief of Staff of Cedars Medical Center and Medical Director of Humana Medical Plans in Florida.

What is the true origin of this virus?
«Coronaviruses have been in this planet for millions of years. These viruses usually affect some animals such as bats and other wild animal species. The current pandemic resulted when the coronavirus now named COVID-19 mutated in a way that made it possible for the virus to infect humans and become transmissible from one human to another. Most scientists around the world think that the virus originated from an animal market in Wuhan, China, as was explained by the Chinese Government. There has been a lot of rumors about the possibility that the virus actuallycame from a laboratory rather than an animal market. These rumors have gained strength by the fact that China tried to hide the severity of the original outbreak in Wuhan at the end of last year. At the present time there is no evidence that the virus came from a laboratory in China.»

How can we protect ourselves from COVID-19?
«At the present time there is no cure for Covid-19 and there is no vaccine available today.»
«The most important thing that we can do is to practice SOCIAL DISTANCING from everyone outside our household and to isolate any family member that has symptoms or that has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
We must assume that everyone outside our household may transmit the virus and we must stay at least six feet away from others in order to practice social distancing.
In addition, it is very important to wear a mask when there is a possibility of being closer that six feet from others, such as when we go shopping for food or other necessary items. Currently many communities require that you wear a mask or bandana inside any stores such as supermarkets.»
«It is also very important to wash our hands frequently since the virus can remain alive on many surfaces. The virus can infect you if your hands become contaminated and you touch your face. Washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds will kill the virus.»

What are the symptoms of this illness?
«Many people that get infected by the virus will have very mild symptoms or sometimes, no symptoms at all. The problem is that now we know that individuals start becoming infectious before they show any symptoms and those with mild or no symptoms can still transmit the virus to others. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.»

Can social distancing diminish the transmission of the virus?
«Absolutely YES! Federal and Local guidelines recommend that you stay at least six feet away from other people. In reality even further is better. If someone sneezes or coughs, the water droplets that carry the virus may travel more than six feet in enclosed places such as a room.
«Work places that require employees to work in close proximity to each other increase the dangers of transmission.
«Places where large numbers of people congregate also pose an additional danger and for that reason it is recommended that people NOT congregate in any numbers.»

Is it wise to lift the restrictions that have been imposed by elected officials in many communities?
Restrictions should not be lifted until the following conditions are met:

1) The numbers of infected people have diminished considerably as determined by testing.
2)     There is a program to test for the virus throughout the community in order to isolate those that test positive for the virus.
3)     There is a robust system of tracing all contacts of infected people in order to diminish transmission of the virus in the community. Contacts need to be tested and isolated if also positive for the virus.

«If communities lift restrictions prematurely there is a very good chance that the transmission of the virus will increase and the community will find itself in a health crisis again.»

How long will it take before there is an effective vaccine against the virus?
«The experts predict that it may take as long as two years. Some more optimistic predictions say 18 months from now.»

When will we be able to return to normal?
«There is no easy answer to this question. My opinion is that we won’t be able to return to normal until there is a vaccine available to the population.
In the meantime, some degree of self protection with the use of masks and avoidance of crowds will be part of our new normal. This will be very important specially for elderly people and those with preexisting medical conditions.»