Coronavirus (COVID-19) nothing to fear, if you know the enemy
WASHINGTON: The coronavirus and Covid-19 headlines are grim: Panic buying; hospitals at the breaking point; national shutdown; airlines on the brink of collapse. School is out for a month, and on day two, the kids are bored.
Fear is a common response to the unknown, and it’s a bad one. Fear makes us stupid. Panic sets in when we’re unprepared and uninformed. However, panic buying is not preparation. Panic is why some people have stocked up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer when they should have been buying nitrile gloves, birth control, and jigsaw puzzles.
If you understand the problem and are prepared, you’ve done what you can and should set aside fear. So let’s review a few facts about coronavirus and dispel some fear.
The coronavirus isn’t out to get you:
Hand sanitizer doesn’t work well on dirty or greasy hands, and it’s more effective at killing bacteria than viruses. On the plus side, it’s portable. Soap and water aren’t available after you’ve pushed a grocery cart, and hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes are better than nothing. But when you’re at home or the office, forget the hand sanitizer. Just wash your hands. A lot.
2. Viruses can’t fly.
They can’t walk, crawl, or move on their own in any way. They can’t bore through your skin. A virus is a bit of nucleic acid and maybe an enzyme or two, wrapped in a coat of protein. There’s been a raging debate among sophomore biology majors about whether viruses are even alive. It’s a moot point. Viruses just sit there and do nothing until they get into a host cell.
When it comes to infection, your biggest enemy is you.
Why is that important? Because coronavirus can only get into your body if you help it. If it’s on a grocery cart and then gets on your hands, it can’t get through your skin. You have to move it to your mouth, your nose or your eyes yourself.
That’s why you have to wash your hands before you touch your face, and after you touch a grocery cart, a gas pump, a handrail. And because we’re careless slobs who often touch our faces without thinking, that’s why you shouldn’t touch a grocery cart, a gas pump or a handrail. Because ten minutes after you do, you’ll forget and rub your eye, pick your teeth.
Or if you’re in your car and thus completely invisible to anyone else, pick your nose.
That’s why you shouldn’t shake hands. Wear nitrile gloves, shield your hand with a paper towel, give the Vulcan salute.
Viruses can ride droplets of saliva. That’s why you maintain your social distance. If you can smell what someone had for lunch on his breath, you’re too close. If someone laughs, coughs, sneezes, or speaks with vigorous “th” sounds in your direction, you want to be six feet away. Saliva aerosols can’t usually travel that far.
Be careful of the sick and elderly.
3. You’ll probably be infected with coronavirus, and you probably won’t notice.
At least, if you’re healthy and under 60, not much. So far no children under 10 have died of it, and few have even fallen ill. The youngest person to die so far in the U.K. was 59. If, however, you have diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory diseases, cancer, or are immunosuppressed, an infection becomes more serious.
You need to be much more fastidious, much more careful.
And if you come in contact with the elderly or ill, you also have to be much more careful. Since most of us do, that’s why we should be careful and concerned. Not for ourselves, but for others.
We’re playing a numbers game.
4. Because experts expect most people to be infected, public health measures aren’t designed to stop it.
The intent is to slow it down. Because the illness is usually mild, the world will still function normally if workers catch it. Just not all at once. You’ve probably heard about “flattening the curve.” The idea is to spread the infections out over time.
If the elderly and ill who do get it all got it at once, hospitals would be overwhelmed. You wouldn’t be able to get a bed for other illnesses. They’d be jammed full of people with pneumonia.
If we spread the infections out over months, hospitals can treat serious cases and still take care of appendectomies, knee replacements, and gall bladder removals. Things can putter along normally.
A hundred million cases of Covid-19 in a year isn’t scary; a hundred million cases in a month is terrifying.
Enough with the toilet paper!
5. Coronavirus doesn’t usually cause diarrhea.
Don’t worry about the toilet paper. If you’ve got a few rolls on hand, you’ll last until more arrives at the store. Unless you’ve got a teenage girl in the house. But in that case, you’ve got worse problems than coronavirus.
When I was young, toilet paper was so common we hung it in the trees of our enemies. Those days will come again.
6. Coronavirus doesn’t cause sterility.
If you and your partner don’t want to contribute to a coronavirus baby boom next December, take precautions.
Keep calm and watch a cat video.
There’s no situation so bad that fear and stupidity can’t make it worse. Nothing in life is certain, and death will eventually come for us all, but if we deal with things under our control and understand that many things aren’t, we can face the unknown with calm rather than fear. So keep calm, be informed, and look after people around you. Shop when you have to, but plan and make lists.
Call your neighbors or elderly friends and see if you can pick up anything for them (and keep your distance when you deliver it). If you come through this and realize that you were a self-absorbed bastard to others, you come out a loser.
Be flexible. There’s no spaghetti on grocery shelves in my city, but there’s still pappardelle. Milk is gone, but the cows aren’t sick and shipments continue. When people who bought five gallons can’t drink it all before it goes bad, they’ll leave some for you next time.
There’s still the internet. How bad can the apocalypse be when you can still watch cat videos?
Here are ten minutes of diversions for you:
Lead Image: Leonard Nimoy as Dr. Spock courtesy of the Star Trek television series