Don’t Freak Out: What You Need to Know Before Panicking About Coronavirus

Worries swirl around Coronavirus at Franklin. Check the link in our bio for Lani Vandehey’s story “Don’t Freak Out: What You Need to Know Before Panicking about the Coronavirus”

[Updated on March 12]

In a world plagued by climate change, systemic oppression, and decisive ignorance—that is, a world inspired by fear—a new enemy is rising to the frontline, and it’s making an undeniable impact. Coronavirus. As the daily death tolls and confirmed case counts continue to rise steadily, people’s fears run the risk of outgrowing the numbers. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 30, 2020, just one month after the initial outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019. In just over three months, over 90,000 people have been diagnosed with the rapidly spreading disease in China, and cases have been confirmed in more than sixty countries. The growth rate of the disease in many of those countries nearly perfectly mirrors the pattern seen in China over the last few months. 

Although a pandemic which we have little-to-no means of preventing seems clearly imminent, it is important to remain level-headed and avoid going into full-blown panic mode. This article is compiled with everything you need to know before freaking out about the coronavirus.

The coronavirus that is sweeping across the globe is not the first of its family to infect humans. The disease is called COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). The virus itself is believed to be closely related to a previous strain called SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus). SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV are two coronavirus strains that most likely originated from bats. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). This is a novel coronavirus (nCoV), which is any new strain that has not yet been identified in humans. There are many novel coronaviruses that have only been found in animals so far. However, coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted from animals to humans. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV were first transferred to humans from civet cats and dromedary camels, respectively, states WHO.

According to an article published on the WHO official website, Coronaviruses (CoV) cause many illnesses ranging in severity from the common cold to, in more extreme cases, pneumonia, various types of respiratory syndromes, kidney failure, and even death. For healthy people who have contracted the virus, symptoms tend to be minimal and similar to other flu-like illnesses, with the most common symptoms being dry coughing, trouble breathing, fever, sore throat, and typical cold symptoms. The virus is emerging right at the beginning of spring allergy season, making it even more difficult to detect. Symptoms appear two to fourteen days after exposure to the virus.

SARS-CoV-2 can spread person-to-person via close contact (being within six feet of an infected person for extended periods of time) and respiratory droplets. It is believed to be able to spread through surfaces, but WHO states that it has a poor livability on surfaces and it is unlikely that many people will contract the virus this way. Due to its poor livability, it is also unlikely to contract the virus from contact with goods shipped from China. WHO warns that the virus spreads easily, especially within communities. Those infected are most contagious when showing symptoms. However, it is unclear whether or not it is contagious before showing symptoms. That being said, unless you are currently sick, have a compromised immune system, or you are a medical professional, please, DO NOT BUY FACE MASKS. Health professionals run the risk of facing a supply shortage on an item they desperately need. WHO does not advise those who are currently healthy to wear face masks, as it won’t dramatically increase odds of escaping infection.

Most people in the United States are NOT at immediate risk of contracting COVID-19, states the WHO. However, the situation worldwide continues to worsen. An article published by the WHO on March 1, 2020 states that the United Nations (UN) provided fifteen million U.S. dollars to assist in funding efforts to contain COVID-19 around the globe. This money was pulled from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

In order to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2, follow basic hygiene precautions including frequent thorough hand washing if hands are dirty and after sneezing or coughing; covering coughs and sneezes; avoiding close contact with those exhibiting respiratory symptoms; avoiding touching eyes, mouth, and nose with unwashed hands; frequently cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces; thoroughly cooking meat and eggs; and staying home if you are sick, according to the WHO.

IF YOU ARE SICK: stay home except to seek medical care, wear a face mask, and be acutely aware of spreading your germs. Quarantine yourself to one room as much as possible and avoid contact with people and animals in your household. Be sure to call ahead before going to the doctor, avoid sharing personal household items, and clean/disinfect surfaces frequently. Monitor your symptoms and keep your healthcare provider updated. It is important to remember that although you may not experience extreme symptoms, others around you might. The older someone is, the higher risk they have of exhibiting the most extreme symptoms. Despite the urgency with which we are facing this virus, it may be difficult for many people to stay home due to a lack of paid sick leave. Our economy is not designed to accommodate those who are hindered, but instead to replace them with expendable workers.

Currently, (as of March 10, 2020) there are over 125,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, more than 4,600 deaths, and 120 countries with confirmed cases. In the United States alone there have been over 1,500 cases in 45 states and 39 deaths, according to a map updated daily by the New York Times. The U.S. is tenth in confirmed case count. Washington and New York have the most confirmed cases, with Oregon being far behind at only twenty so far. The west coast has been hit particularly hard by the virus.

Oregon Government officials predict to see numbers rising into the hundreds in the very near future. In a press conference on March 12, 2020, Governor Kate Brown announced that, “Effective immediately…All large gatherings of 250 people and over will be cancelled,” with grocery stores and public schools being the exceptions. As of Friday, March 13, all non-essential school-based activities in PPS are cancelled for thirty days. Sports games will continue as scheduled, but no viewers will be permitted to attend.

On February 29, 2020 WHO identified the viral disease as a pandemic. The director of the WHO announced in a media briefing on March 9, 2020 that this may be the first pandemic in history that we have the potential to contain. For live updates, check the World Health Organization’s official website, as well as the New York Times.

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