Note: This is a rapidly developing story. The information in this piece is current as of Wednesday, March 11th.
Countries setting up quarantines and blocking borders. People emptying supermarkets. There’s a lot of panic happening over the coronavirus, the specific strain of which is known as COVID-19. The Quest spoke with both the Medical Services Director Timmie Rochon and Professor of Biology Jay Mellies to understand more about the current coronavirus situation. While the short answer was that most people do not need to panic, the longer answer is that the issue is more complicated than it first appears. For many people, the danger isn’t that they’ll get the virus; the danger is that they’ll give it to someone else.
For context, a coronavirus is a virus that gives people infections, usually in the respiratory tract. However, most coronaviruses simply give people a mild cold that they don’t even need to go to the doctor for. Even for COVID-19, Rochon said that around 80 percent of the people who are infected will either just not have symptoms, or symptoms will be mild and easily dismissible as a regular cold.
Despite it being relatively harmless to most of the population, there are several reasons people have started to panic over this specific coronavirus. First of all, despite it acting similarly in terms of symptoms presented, it is an anomalous coronavirus. COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads very quickly throughout communities. It is passed on through fluids, which includes particles from coughing or sneezing. This is important because, for people who are over 60 years old or immunocompromised, this virus is very dangerous. It can cause extreme respiratory problems and diseases for this section of the population, and everyone who’s carrying it has the potential to pass it on to members of those populations without knowing it.
This virus is also mostly an enigma. Since the symptoms are so hard to catch for most people and the United States hasn’t started regular testing for the virus yet, there are a lot of unknowns. “It seems to spread fast. Is it spreading faster than the flu? I don’t think we know yet. I think that testing has been really difficult. Some countries are testing way more than we are right now. Our testing has just started happening. And I think if we were doing more testing our numbers would be much higher, and we’d have more data, but there’s just not a lot of data out there because it’s so new,” Rochon explained.
This, coupled with the fact that a vaccine for the virus won’t be finished for around a year from now, makes it easy to see why people are starting to panic. However, the good news is that there are really simple ways to protect against the coronavirus, and all of them essentially boil down to basic hygiene. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Get plenty of sleep. If you’re sick, wear a mask and isolate yourself. If you think you might have the coronavirus, call the HCC ahead of time so that they can prepare to take you.
As Mellies explained, “Don’t panic. Be prepared. Use common sense. Wash hands. Don’t touch your face. Fist bumps over handshakes. Disinfect areas. And then, when people do get sick, you should stay home and stay away from large crowds.”
As for community-based efforts to fight the coronavirus, there has been quite a bit of precaution. A lot of communities are using quarantines. Quarantines might sound extreme, but effective quarantines can help to isolate diseases so that they do not enter the greater community. Reed College has a task force to stay up-to-date on information about this coronavirus and keep the rest of the Reed Community informed. They are also tasked with implementing new procedures should the virus be confirmed to reach Reed. Some of these procedures would include how to quarantine infected people in the community, specifically students who live on campus. Reed also has a page on their website called “Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Prevention & Response,” which gives a more in-depth overview of what the virus is and Reed’s policies on dealing with it, alongside links to the website for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If you want more information about COVID-19, the CDC, the World Health Organization, and Johns Hopkins University, all have thorough websites with detailed information and current news on the virus’s spread.
Stay safe this season! And remember, as Rochon explained, “If you stay healthy, you’re going to keep other people healthy.”