Hey all. Today’s blog is inspired by people who don’t understand the reality of the current situation about COVID-19.
My key takeaway: Now is not the time to chill or relax. Now is the time to prepare. Here in this sitrep (situation report) I will tell you why and how. Keep in mind that things will change quickly. Part of being prepared is to keep up with changing information—look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for US-specific information and the World Health Organization (WHO) for global information.
COVID-19 is a novel (new) virus, which means our bodies aren’t familiar with it.1 It’s not like the flu. It is deadlier. For every 100 people you know who get this, we expect that 5 people will be hospitalized on a ventilator or worse. Many people think that because it hasn’t killed as many people as the flu yet, it’s not as bad (or maybe the same). That’s not a good way to think about it. It hasn’t killed as many people yet because it is still early—it hasn’t spread widely in the world yet. There’s currently no treatment for it. Antivirals for the flu won’t help because it’s a different kind of virus. There’s no vaccine yet either, so we can’t protect people from getting it. Scientists are working really hard on both of those. What we need to do now is prepare for many, many people to get sick. All of this focus on preparedness isn’t just to scare people, it’s to put off the impact that the virus will have on our communities. This graph shows the difference between being prepared and not being prepared for an epidemic: [my website is not working right, so please head to the blog that hosts it].
If we don’t take steps to limit the spread of the disease, it will impact communities, states, or a country in a more concentrated way. That’s what that high curve shows. If we prepare by taking many precautions (social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, limiting travel, etc), fewer people will be affected at the same time—that’s the low curve. This means that our healthcare systems will not get overwhelmed with very sick people all showing up at the same time and we will have enough resources (ventilators, oxygen tanks, personal protective equipment like masks) to take care of the sick. Part of public health preparedness is mobilizing resources quickly when needed. We’ve seen from other countries—including Italy now—that when COVID-19 hits a region all at once, it can be dangerous for many, many people.
For the vast majority of us, our bodies will conquer it—it may not even seem worse than a cold. Some people will get infected and not even know it. But have no doubt; it is deadlier than the flu.2 It will hit some groups hard: older adults and those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and even diabetes. This is not a guess or an opinion. I am not overstating this risk because I’m a worrywart. I and others who share this information do not need to chill. The information here is based on what scientists have already observed in multiple countries. Thankfully, children do not seem to be at much risk for severe illness. But the disease is also very contagious: every person who has the virus in their system will likely pass it on to at least two people. If you are mildly affected, great! If you pass it along to your elderly or sick family member because you don’t treat it as a serious problem, that’s not good.
If it helps, try to keep in mind specific older people or sick people in your community. It may be a family member, teacher, religious leader, or the manager at the bakery. If you don’t think it’s time to change your behavior or really be very concerned, please just do it out of caution for them.
So, what should you do? The CDC and WHO have some clear recommendations.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. This kills coronavirus germs that you may have picked up from contaminated surfaces in your community.
- Practice social distancing-stop shaking hands. Some people hug a lot in the US; let’s put that on hold for a bit. Avoid crowds if you can. Work from home more if you’re able. The goal is to limit your contact with crowds – again, the fewer people who get sick at the same time, the better.
- Try not to touch highly-used surfaces in public places like doorknobs, handrails, and elevator buttons. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand if you have to.
- Practice respiratory hygiene. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. If you use a tissue, throw it away immediately. If your kid (or yourself!) pick your nose, use a tissue or stop. Don’t touch your face-try to be more mindful of that and touch your arm instead or carry something around and fiddle with it (but clean it often).
- Clean highly-used surfaces of your home or at work often. Use a disinfecting cleaner and use it properly so it can kill the virus. Don’t forget to clean your mobile devices, computer keyboards, etc.
- People who have any symptoms of a cold or the flu should stay home, call your doctor and see what they want you to do. You may be able to be tested. This is especially important if you have the characteristics symptoms of COVID-19 infection: Fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The most severe illness develops into pneumonia, but this doesn’t necessarily happen early in the illness, so even if you’re not feeling too bad early on, keep an eye out for symptoms suddenly worsening.
- If you have been in contact with someone who is sick, you should consider whether you can self-quarantine. The disease can be transmitted when people have few or no symptoms.
- Make plans for how you will take care of family members who are sick. It’s best to have them isolated and have a bathroom for only their use if possible. If not, one family member should care for the person and wipe down bathroom surfaces after use.
I can’t drive this home enough: Older folks and people with health conditions are at higher risk. Yesterday, the CDC recommended more extreme social distancing measures for the over-60 crowd, including staying home as much as possible. (Easy to read article here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-older-americans-should-stock-up-on-groceries-medications-cdc-warns/, actual telebriefing but no transcript yet here: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/a0309-covid-19-update.html)
Especially for people in those high-risk groups,
- Stay home as much as possible to avoid being exposed.
- Make sure you have an extended supply of any medicines. Try to get a few months’ worth if possible.
- Make sure you have over-the-counter medical treatments and supplies like fever reducing meds, cold meds, and tissues.
- Have enough household items and groceries on hand so you will be prepared to stay home for a period of time. Think about ways to get food and necessary items if you can’t go out and shop yourself, like asking friends, family members, or community associations.
For my fellow people with mental health conditions, I want to say hang in there. What a time. We have so much to think about, worry about, and try to regulate within ourselves, and now this crisis. Sometimes it helps, I’ve found, to have something “real” to concentrate on rather than symptoms. But for many of us, the worries will also combine with changes to our life situations that will be very challenging.
First, know that I’m available to answer questions and talk; feel free to post comments here. I am a trained and experienced peer support mentor and will do my best to honestly answer questions and provide resources. If you’re feeling suicidal, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 in US to reach the Crisis Text Line for urgent support. You can also search online for crisis support in your county or even call 911 or your local emergency number. The WHO also has some additional advice for all of us to lower stress, including eating well, exercising, trying to avoid using alcohol and drugs to cope, talking to a counselor, and getting the facts from a reputable website.
We will make it through this together. In the words of WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “This epidemic can be pushed back… We’re all in this together, and we can only save lives together.”
1&2: Most content from this paragraph comes from the World Health Organization Sitrep 46: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200306-sitrep-46-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=96b04adf_2