What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus
From symptoms to how to prepare
Coronavirus is in the United States after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had warned that the spread of the coronavirus is “inevitable.” It has also rattled markets, and Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has said it would take “at least a year to a year and a half at best” to develop a vaccine for “COVID-19.”
To help us make sense of the outbreak, Wake-Up Call’s senior writer Tess Bonn spoke to Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, a former Health Commissioner for the City of Baltimore and former president of Planned Parenthood. She’s currently a visiting professor at George Washington University.
So here’s what you need to know.
First, don’t panic
For those of us in North America, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on with the coronavirus — but we should avoid panicking at this time. “Right now, the everyday person should not be worried about the new COVID-19,” Wen said, before adding that the general public should be “much more worried about the flu and other viruses.” This year’s flu season is on track to be one of the worst in years. The CDC estimates that from October 1, 2019, to February 29, 2020, there have been up to 52,000 deaths and more than 600,000 have been hospitalized as a result of the flu. However, there’s some good news on the horizon: flu season in the U.S. is beginning to wind down, according to an NPR report.
Spot the symptoms
Coronavirus impacts everyone differently, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms. Even though some people can show symptoms within a few days, others may develop no signs at all. According to the World Health Organization, common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. However, Wen estimates that just 2 percent of people who contract the coronavirus die as a result of the illness. “The caveat is that there are probably many cases that have not been diagnosed … which means the mortality rate could be even lower,” she said.
Stick to the basics — washing your hands!
Wen emphasized that the novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus — and like other respiratory viruses, it can be prevented with something as basic as washing your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, before eating and blowing your nose. If you aren’t near a bathroom, find some hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
But you can skip the surgical masks: “Face masks are important for health care workers — they’re not as useful for everyday people,” Wen said. The CDC agrees: “CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases.”
While there’s no need for panic in the U.S. at this time, it’s important for the country to prepare for the potential outbreak. Hospitals should start practicing their own pandemic response plans, and workplaces should start exploring telecommuting, according to Wen. Likewise, Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at UCLA, told The Washington Post that people should make sure they’re well supplied with typical respiratory medicine like anti-inflammatory drugs.
The more transparency, the better
Wen praised health officials for their handling of the impending threat, but urged them to continue to be transparent. “They should be transparent about what decisions are being made; why they’re being made,” she said.
Wen also emphasized that the federal government needs to invest in local public health, saying that local public health officials are often on the “front lines” of epidemics.
“We will not be able to respond to outbreaks if our front lines are not resourced appropriately, and so we really need to have much more support for those who are on the front lines of this epidemic,” she said.
This appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.