Coronavirus (COVID-19): Solid Facts, Reasonable Fears, Sensible Measures 🦠🧟‍♀️☣️

(This is a version of something I drafted for my local faith community, where I’m active in safety/security. Faith communities offer lots of programs for the very young, very old, and very vulnerable—and we tend to crowd lots of folks into one room; disease transmission is more of a concern than it might be for a workplace full of healthy young adults who can afford and access health care services.)

Folks are worried about Coronavirus (i.e., “COVID-19”)—and this isn’t unfounded (see the “REASONABLE COVID-19 CONCERNS” sub-section for details).

While there are good reasons for concern, there are also very basic steps we can all take to reduce both the risk of infection and the severity of any disruption to our lives should an outbreak hit nearby.  Please feel free to share any portion (or all) of the following info with your people.  Thanks!

REASONABLE COVID-19 CONCERNS

As of this morning (March 2), there have been two reported Coronavirus (i.e., “COVID-19”) deaths in Washington state.  Given

  • what we know about the disease (e.g., https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ )
  • its gestation period (~2 weeks)
  • the currently understood mortality rate (~2%)
  • how it’s transmitted (airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes)
  • and our best guesses at it’s transmission rate (or “R0”; current estimate is that COVID-19 has an R0 of “2”, which means each infected person will infect ~2 others),

this all tends to imply that the disease has been spreading in WA for ~6-8 weeks, and there are hundreds of cases there now (I heard an estimate in the thousands on NPR this morning, but didn’t catch the source, and so take it with a grain of salt).

On the one hand, this is obviously concerning: COVID-19 is ~20x more deadly than the seasonal flu (which kills tens of thousands annually).  On the other hand, a 2% mortality rate implies a 98% (or higher) survival rate, and an R0 of 2 isn’t great, but it also isn’t a Stephen King story: COVID-19 is more contagious than seasonal flu (which has an R0 of ~1.3, I think) but much less so than measles (R0 ~15) or whooping cough (R0 ~5). (Incidentally, all of those are also primarily transmitted through airborne droplets). 

Usually, diseases like COVID-19 are most dangerous to the very young and very old.  Based on limited studies in China, it appears that even the very, very young have no trouble fending off COVID-19.  That’s great!  But that means the mortality rate for COVID-19 falls hardest on the elderly and those with existing health problems.

REASONABLE COVID-19 MEASURES

  • ENCOURAGE HAND WASHING! I know it seems silly to say, but that’s the Number One way we can protect ourselves and our community members (especially the infirm and our elders).  Make sure to review this with any kids you keep around; they chronically short-change hand washing. The young aren’t at very high risk of dying from COVID-19—but are excellent candidates for spreading it.  (Also, as someone who regularly uses public men’s room, I’ll level with you: Maybe also review this with adults you know.)
    1. Soap and water beats hand-sanitizer every time!  
    2. Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds (i.e., sing “Happy Birthday to Me” twice while washing hands).
    3. Make sure to scrub between fingers, down the backs of the hands, and focus on the finger tips.
    4. Dry vigorously with paper towel—the friction does a lot of the work of removing pathogens.
    5. Wash hands upon returning home from school/work, before and after meals, after you cough or sneeze, and any time you’ve been touching something folks likely coughed on (e.g., shared computers/tablets, ATMs, public handrails, etc.)
    6. Failing all else, hand sanitizer is better than nothing. Proper use us just like soap & water: Cover hands, scrub for 20 seconds, focus on getting between fingers/down backs/and rubbing fingertips.
  •  Cough into the elbow crook: At school my kids were taught that this was called the “vampire cough”; I love that!
  • Plan for school closures: It’s gonna happen, just like snow days. Be ready—and be ready for your day care to be closed, too.  Make advance plans with work to telecommute, have backup helpers in place, and so on.  Make sure your Netflix and Disney+ subscriptions are paid up. Invest in a game system.
  • Take care of yourself: Disease strikes the stressed, tired, and weary.  Drink plenty of water, get plenty of exercise (go on a walk before the ice returns!), and get plenty of sleep.

FURTHER COVID-19 RESOURCES