There is a dangerous attitude in America right now. Media outlets and social media have been parroting words from the President that COVID 19 is basically “harmless” for most people. People think that the virus is an inconvenience and that recovery is easy. Beware of this message.
Unless you are a clinician or a medical researcher you may not need to understand how this virus behaves in the body, and can be seduced by reassuring messages that it will fade away or that if you do get it you will recover without any problem. Evidence proves this mindset is dead wrong.
The good news is that the medical community has found simple and effective ways to fight the spread of COVID19.
Using the Tools at Hand
The science surrounding COVID 19 is evolving rapidly. It is also raising areas for continued research because so much remains to be learned about this virus. The tools at hand are simple: masks, social distance, and handwashing. To some people these old-school steps may sound ridiculous given that we live in a modern and powerful country in the 21st century, but until there is an effective vaccine, they are all that we have in our toolbox.
We are now confident that this virus spreads even when people are not yet ill, called pre-symptomatic, as well as people who may have the virus but experience no symptoms (asymptomatic). Watch this video from the New England Journal of Medicine showing the laser tracking of droplet particles from normal speech while wearing a mask and without a mask. This 40 second visual illustrates how conversation can spread the virus.
A brief overview of types of mask is included in this article from Johns Hopkins. California, which has seen a surge in cases, especially in the 18-34 age group and 35-49 in early July, is now requiring masks to slow the spread of disease. UCSF provides another resource for understanding the purpose of masks in slowing the spread.
This “tool” does not come naturally to human beings. We are social beings and staying apart is a difficult strategy to incorporate into our lives. When combined with masks, these Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions limit the spread of the virus.
When used immediately in an outbreak social distancing can managing the spread of the disease. This is demonstrated in countries like Germany, South Korea, New Zealand and others who were prepared to confront a dangerous new virus. These countries have been able to reopen with controlled strategies that allow businesses to operate and people to resume more normal lives. When they do see an outbreak, it can be quickly contained because they’ve implemented ongoing testing, tracing, and quarantining in place.
American Society of Microbiology offers an overview on the science behind social distancing. It may help to know that historically this is a strategy used in pandemics for centuries. Today we’ve the advantage of rapidly growing body of knowledge around SARS2 that is already leading to better interventions when people become ill.
Just as mothers remind small children to “wash your hands,” everyone – adult or child – needs to increase the frequency of this ritual. Even when we understand the importance of handwashing for 20-30 seconds with warm water and soap it is easy to lapse into old habits or forget “just once.”
Handwashing is our personal last line of defense against possible infection. At home and in work settings our hands carry various bacteria. If the hands have touched something that has viral residue, transmission to our face or other surfaces is possible.
These humble tools remain our best personal and social strategies to defend against the virus.