Prevention, Not Panic
Instead of hoarding supplies, practice social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus
With every email in our inboxes starting with “COVID-19 Update” and all major headlines touting “Rising Fears about the Coronavirus,” it appears that mass panic may be largely inevitable over the next several weeks and months. To quieten some of these fears, potent national and international organizations have taken charge in providing data and important information regarding the coronavirus and its spread.
Several outstanding epidemiologists have also taken initiative to educate the public about prevention practices and what to expect as more research is being conducted about the virus, its transmission, and its spread among communities worldwide.
To combat misinformation & provide sources to useful data being shared regarding COVID-19, this article will discuss what we know, what we don’t, where we’re going, and how you can help limit virus spread.
Here, you can find science-based facts and figures about what we know now and why we must be practicing due precaution and prevention as a society.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has been named SARS-CoV-2, not to be confused with SARS associated with the 2002 outbreak. There are several different coronaviruses, but the specific viral strain discovered from the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei, China is the strain of interest causing COVID-19. Put simply, just as HIV causes AIDS, SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, which is being referred to colloquially as “the coronavirus.”
Where are we now?
As of March 12, 2020, this graphic highlights the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (named SARS-CoV2)] around the world. Updated COVID-19 data and visualizations can easily be found on Johns Hopkins University’s CSSE page.
Demographic and epidemiological research analyzing data coming out of China indicate that mortality affects those of older age, and with multiple other conditions (hypertension, diabetes, and and coronary heart disease). Based on these data, and continuously updated data provided by the WHO and Johns Hopkins University, it is evident that a large proportion of individuals affected by COVID-19 are not at risk for death.
Several countries have imposed travel bans, halted sports events, closed schools & universities, and canceled meetings and conferences to help mitigate the spread of the virus as testing becomes more widely available. Internationally, several research groups have begun COVID-19 vaccine development. At a time where worry and mistrust of initiatives aimed to keep us safe is high, staying up-to-date with the current status of research is important.
In the US, as of March 12, there are 1,323 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with testing capacity increasing and more public events being canceled or postponed.
Where are we going?
Based on trajectories we’ve seen in Italy, South Korea, Japan, and other nations highly impacted by COVID-19, many epidemiologists and officials predict that the pandemic will get worse before it gets better. A rough forecast of virus transmission predicts that the virus may quickly affect a large number of residents of many nations, especially those whose healthcare systems are likely to be overburdened with caring for an exponentially rising number of patients.
Increasing the availability of tests and actively testing individuals in all parts of the country will inevitably lead to a higher reported number of cases, since the disease appears to manifest without severe symptoms and many individuals who appear asymptomatic may already be affected, but aren’t actively seeking testing. The mild symptoms of COVID-19 make the virus more difficult to contain, due largely to nations’ lack of heed to the WHO’s planning to contain such an outbreak after SARS in 2002.
Currently, epidemiologists’ predict that the United States is only 1–2 weeks behind Italy’s now-feared country-wide state of quarantine. While this signals large institutional-level change for our nation, it’s also likely going to affect our society for several months to come as the prevalence first rises and then eventually falls over time.
But how do we prevent the state of our nation from becoming one in which we are forced into an indefinite quarantine in the first place?
The most important GIF on the internet right now
You might’ve heard of the need to “Flatten the Curve” and practice “social distancing.” What do these terms mean? Well, if you’re on Twitter, you might have seen this GIF that’s been posted by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, which explains the phenomenon pretty well.
Flattening the curve reduces the number of cases at the height of the pandemic, when there is the highest number of cases at any time.
So, why do we care about flattening the curve?
If the number of cases at the height of the pandemic far exceeds our healthcare system capacity, we can only imagine the monstrosity that would result. Insufficient hospital beds, a non-existent supply of protective equipment, crowded hospital halls, and a subsequently high patient death rate would put us right on the path that Italy and China are experiencing at the height of their respective outbreaks.
To avoid an unprecedented and intractable healthcare system failure, we must do our part in promoting public health to partake in social distancing, which physically mitigates person-to-person contact, is the best way to limit virus spread.
By practicing good public health practices — handwashing, sanitizing shared surfaces, and social distancing in the form of cancelling large gatherings and staying home when sick — we can help to limit the spread of the virus in our communities.
Recent research out of a Belgian university indicates that the virus can be spread before symptoms appear in individuals, indicating the heightened importance of social distancing, cancelling large gatherings, and other such preventative measures to minimize the number of cases at the peak of that bell curve.
So, Is It Still Like the Flu?
For some, the question remains “how seriously do I need to take this coronavirus?”
Statistically speaking, current data from the WHO and CDC show that more individuals die every day from diseases such as Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, and yes, the Seasonal Flu than currently die per day from the coronavirus. Barring the fact that these numbers can and will quickly change as the pandemic continues, such comparisons aim to put our fears at ease by minimizing our perceived risk of the pandemic.
Since the virus has already spread greatly through community spread, it is now more important than ever to break the chain of virus transmission by implementing good public health & prevention practices to protect not only ourselves, but the elderly, those with comorbidities, and immunocompromised, who are most at risk.
As responsible individuals who care about public health, we must band together and dutifully follow and promote social distancing measures as they best fit our communities, in a time where the burden of this pandemic will fall disproportionately on those who are food insecure, housing insecure, and otherwise suffering at the hands of a frail system.
The burden of this pandemic will fall disproportionately on those who are food insecure, housing insecure, and otherwise suffering at the hands of a frail system.
As time goes on and more research is conducted, we will gain increasing knowledge about this virus and how it will continue to affect our communities. At the end of it all, we can only hope that our efforts appear superficially as an “overreaction” to the situation. Until then, our best weapon is prevention.
What You Can Do Now
- Stay educated about the spread of the virus and how it affects you and your surrounding community. Look at data from the CDC, WHO, and your local news. And if you found this article helpful, please share it!
- Practice good hygeine. Wash your hands often with soap and water and refrain from touching your face.
- If you feel sick, stay home and minimize contact with others. Seek out treatment as you need it.
- Avoid all non-essential travel and large social gatherings.
- Be cautious, but not panicked. While keeping supplies at home if you are susceptible to quarantine is not harmful, stockpiling face masks that are crucial in hospitals is!