Don’t Be Afraid of Coronavirus: Be Smart Instead

Now is the time for separating fear-based responses from evidence-based ones

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Despite what Donald Trump said last week, the reality is that Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not just coming to the United States, it’s already here. As of Monday morning, the case count in the U.S. had reached the 90s, and will likely hit 100 in the next couple of days.

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said of the 14 original positive cases of coronavirus in the United States, all are recovered or recovering.

“We’ve seen an increase of cases in the United States over the weekend. I want folks to understand that we knew this was coming, we told folks that this was going to happen and it is why we’ve been preaching preparedness from the very start,” Adams said. -CNN

Further spread is inevitable, but you’re probably going to be fine. Here’s what you need to do right now: not panic. The word ‘pandemic’ sounds scary, but in reality all it means is that there’s a new illness that’s not contained to one area of the world. It has nothing to do with the severity of the illness, the 2009 H1N1 flu was a pandemic, and was no deadlier than regular flu.

COVID-19 is more severe than typical seasonal flus, but must be viewed in perspective. The current estimates for fatality rate for COVID-19 are around 2%. This isn’t nothing, but to put it in perspective, here are fatality rates (before vaccines) for some other epidemics:

  • SARS fatality rate is around 10%
  • Spanish Flu killed between 10–20%
  • Bubonic Plague was as high as 60%
  • Ebola killed 83–90%
  • Smallpox was fatal to over 95%

So, why is everyone panicking so much over something that is largely manageable? Seth Mnookin called it The Panic Virus, a medical crisis created by misinformation and sensationalist reporting. You can get to-the-hour updates on infection rates, deaths, cancellations, closures, and official statements, so it’s easy to become consumed with the spread of the illness.

In reality, 98–99% of people who get COVID-19 will be okay.

In reality, 98–99% of people who get COVID-19 will be okay. People get sick. It’s just a reality of sharing the world with viruses and bacteria. Someone you know will get COVID-19. That is an inevitability, just as each year you know people who get colds and the flu. The reason this virus is spreading so well is because it’s smart- it infects people and then has no symptoms or very mild ones, so they don’t know they’re sick, or don’t know they’ve got this particular illness.

The virus’ primary mode of transmission is airborne. This means people sneeze or cough, and then when those viral particles touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you might contract it. You are much less likely to get it from a door handle than from another human coughing near you. It can survive on surfaces for some period of time, but disinfectants are very effective.

So, what do you really need to do to prepare and protect yourself and those around you? Here are seven real ways you can do your part to minimize the impacts of COVID-19 in your home and community.

  1. Stop touching your face. Or try to, at least. I didn’t realize how much I put my hands near my eyes until I was trying not to. When you’re not at home, don’t touch stuff unnecessarily.
  2. Wash your hands. Use soap and hot water for 20 seconds when you get home or after you’ve touched a lot of stuff. Work as a cashier? Wash your hands before you eat at your break times. Visit the grocery store, bank, or library? Wash your hands!
  3. If you’re sick, stay home. Even if you feel okay, just stay home. This is the most important thing you can do if you get infected. If you’ve got a fever, coughing, sneezing, or feel short of breath, stay home until you’ve been fever free for a full 24 hours (without medications).
  4. Don’t go to the doctor unless you need to. The death toll was extremely high during the 1997 Ebola outbreak, and one reason for that was that people who needed other types of care could not get treatment. Doctors were too busy dealing with the crisis to provide patient care. So, if you don’t need to go, don’t. Let them treat the people who really need it.
  5. Be smart, not reactive. There will not likely be shortages of food, water, energy, etc. There is no need to stock up on food because of supply problems. However, it might be wise to have some extra food on hand in case you get sick. This will limit your need to go out where you might risk infecting other people.
  6. Be cautious with at-risk people. Stay away from immuno-compromised people. Do not take chances with people who have weakened immune systems or sensitivity to respiratory illnesses. If you’re feeling sick, make sure you let anyone you’ve got plans with know and give them the option to bow out. People with asthma and other lung issues will need to be more careful.
  7. Use your phone. If you think you are sick, call your doctor’s office. Do not go to urgent care or the ER without talking to your doctor first, because that’s just going to risk infecting others. There is no treatment, so unless you get quite ill, the best thing to do is stay home.

Basically, do all the things you’d normally do during flu season to try and avoid it, with a little extra on top. There are also some things you shouldn’t do:

  1. Panic. Spending hours worrying and fretting about the spread of COVID-19 isn’t going to make any difference. It’s not going to stop the virus from spreading, it’s not going to protect you, and it’s just going to be a waste of energy. Follow the recommendations of the CDC, and go about your life.
  2. Stock up on masks. The CDC does not recommend facemasks for the general public. Most masks will not prevent you from inhaling personalized particles. Masks also do not protect your eyes. There’s already a shortage, so leave them for healthcare providers and sick people.
  3. Get wrapped up in the stigma around COVID-19. You cannot get it from eating Chinese food or interacting with packages shipped from China. Viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds. If someone you came in contact with was in an area with ongoing spread 2 weeks or more in the past, they are not infected.

This morning, I received an email from the medical group that includes my doctor and my kids’ pediatrician. As stated above, they requested that if anyone is sick with fever and cough and have traveled outside the U.S. or been in contact with someone known to have COVID-19 that they call. Now is the time that we need to trust our health care professionals to help us through being sick, and help them do their jobs by trusting the recommendations they’re making.

I am not worried about this Coronavirus, despite the fact that I live in Washington state, where there have been confirmed cases. We will be doing what we can to make sure we don’t contribute to the spread, and if we get sick we’ll hunker down. Instead of panicking, we’re going to listen to the evidence and stay calm.

Here are some trustworthy places to find more information about COVID-19:

CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

CDC COVID-19 FAQ

John’s Hopkins COVID-19 Expert Reality Check

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Polyamorous, loud laughing unapologetic feminist, rad fatty, and epic sweet tooth.

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