I’ve been texted and messaged by so many who know my infectious diseases and infection control training background and I’m honored that you would ask me what to think and do about the Coronavirus pandemic. So, I’m writing this to try and distill the most important facts and information to help you and your loved ones, in a confusing world of conflicting information:
1.) First, don’t panic. For 80% of us, infection with this virus will be no more than a bad cold or flu-like illness. This is not the end of humanity, and we will get through this, though it will be tough for awhile, and we will have to give up life as usual for some time, and make some very tough and unpleasant decisions for how we live our home/private lives and navigate our work lives. Previous generations have done this for various causes and crises (1918 Spanish Flu,the Great Depression, WW II, 9-11, SARS, MERS, 2009 H1N1 Pandemic) and survived. And so will we!
2.) Limit the amount of media that you consume. Be especially aware of fake posts on Facebook, which are common. Even trusted sources of info are dramatizing this pandemic, with the nightly “death count” on the news. Turn it off, tune it out, but do stay informed. My advice: listen to and trust everything that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Infectious Diseases expert, Dr. Tony Fauci, says regarding what to expect and what to do to keep you and your family safe. He has gotten us through several pandemics and his expertise and experience will get us through this one. Also, look at the CDC Coronavirus site daily to stay informed and answer your questions. This is the best single source of information available.
3.) Do the basics: wash and sanitize your hands, avoid crowds and gatherings for the next couple of months, and follow the advice of your local public health experts.
4.) Realize that international travel makes this a small world. Published data suggests that COVID-19 began in early December in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. They just started to go back to work and get back to life as usual last week (mid-March). Most of the world did not become aware of the virus’ existence until much more recently. However, some countries, like South Korea, saw this coming and started testing everyone early at a point in the now famous epidemiological curve when “containment” (i.e., test and isolate) procedures dramatically slowed the spread there. The US still has not ramped up testing and it is important to understand that we are further up the epi curve (more widespread cases) than most people realize, so only more drastic “mitigation” actions will slow further spread (social distancing, shelter in place, closing down restaurants and bars, gyms, movie theaters, concerts, etc.) to avoid overwhelming our healthcare facilities with sick patients. However, even these actions will not stop the spread of the virus at this point, but rather only slow spread. From my review of the Chinese and South Korean experiences, we should expect the toughest impact on our routine life to continue for the next 2.5-3 months. I hope that, if most Americans follow infection control and social distancing guidelines, we might start to get back to a more regular way of life by early June 2020. The Coronavirus will be with us for much longer than that!
5.) You will hear the news media broadcast “breaking news” daily of so many new positive cases of, and deaths from, COVID-19. Even I feel anxiety sometimes by the way the media reports all of this. Remember (4) above and do not panic. COVID-19 has been in the US for a few months, spreading among all of us even though we did not know it. So, as testing catches up with actual cases, you will, of course, hear of lots of new rapidly rising numbers of cases as testing catches up with reality on the ground here. See this coming and do not give in to media-induced panic.
(6.) Isolate your parents and grandparents, and anyone you love with underlying lung disease, heart disease, cancer, immunodeficiency, or other chronic diseases. Kids are largely spared from serious illness with this virus (probably because of their experience with infection with other childhood Coronavirus infections, and the cross-protective immunity that this likely gives them to COVID-19). Very recent experiences from Italy and France suggest that young adults may get serious and life-threatening illnesses, landing them in ICU’s. Recent US spring break beach video shows that many millennials, Gen-X’ers and Gen Y’ers are not taking this virus seriously, congregating in large numbers despite warnings not to do so, but they should be social distancing like everyone else.
I hope this helps all of you to feel more empowered and informed. Knowledge is power, and we are all scared of what we do not understand, so read, inform yourself and know fact from fiction, and you will feel empowered and safe.
Love to all!
Chris Nelson is a board certificated pediatrician from the American Medical Association with a specialty in infectious disease. He is currently a pediatrician at the Pediatric & Adolescent Associates in Lexington, KY and previously served as the Pediatric Clerkship Director at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He and his wife are also owners of Chrisman Mill Winery in Nicholasville, KY.
Additionally, Dr. Nelson served on the dissertation committee of Steven O. Evans, PhD, the publisher of OutClique magazine. The title of Dr. Evans’ dissertation is “Pediatrics education in an AHEC setting: Preparing students to provide patient centered medicine” from the University of Kentucky College of Education. It can be found at www.Libraries.UKY.edu.