In a matter of days, the coronavirus has moved from being a distant problem across the world to an outbreak with over 100 cases in Washington state alone. This rapid change has caused anxiety on campus that resulted in the canceling of in-person classes for the rest of the quarter.
“At this point, there’s just so much we don’t know,” Dr. Deborah Fuller, division chief of infectious diseases and translational medicine at the Washington National Primate Research Center, said. “I think that lack of knowledge drives the concerns because people start filling in the blanks.”
So what is the coronavirus and what can be done about it?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections in humans. COVID-19 is the name of the disease behind this particular outbreak of the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is spread through “respiratory droplets” released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouth or nose of another person, putting them at risk for infection. It is also believed that if the droplets land on a table or other surface, they may be able to infect a person who touches the surface and then touches their face.
The best way to protect oneself is by going back to the basics of hygiene.
“Some of them are not very sexy or exciting,” Dr. Judith Wasserheit, chair of the department of global health, said. “They’re the kinds of things your mom would probably tell you.”
These include washing hands frequently, cleaning surfaces that are regularly touched (like desks, doorknobs, etc.) with a disinfectant, avoiding touching the face as much as possible, and covering coughs and sneezes.
Both Fuller and Wasserheit also recommended getting a flu shot. While this doesn’t protect directly against COVID-19, catching the flu can make a person more susceptible to infections like the coronavirus or pneumonia.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms and want to get tested, do not go straight into a hospital or clinic; overcrowding these sites will cause chaos or possibly further the spread of the virus. Stay home and call your provider or Hall Health; they will know what steps to take.
Wasserheit also said that people should consider stocking up on some essentials to stay on the safe side. This could include medications, food for people and pets, and toilet paper.
Another thing both Fuller and Wasserheit said was this is not the first pandemic, and it will not be the last.
“Everybody is very concerned about this coronavirus right now,” Wasserheit said. “We clearly need to tackle this and contain it. But equally important is that this should be a wakeup call. What is happening with coronavirus will not be the last time we see a pandemic emerge.”
To that end, the eventual lessons learned from this COVID-19 outbreak should be carried into future outbreaks.
For instance, the previous safety tips should be followed all the time and should continue when the outbreak dies down.
Fuller also recommends having an emergency kit with food, water, money, and other essentials ready at all times. This prepares people for natural disasters like earthquakes, prolonged power outages, or any other situation.
But possibly the most important thing to be learned from this is how to treat each other.
“When people get really frightened sometimes we stigmatize each other and discriminate against each other,” Wasserheit said. “I think we all really need to be aware of that danger as much as the virus itself.”
Especially with many students largely confined to dorms for the next few weeks, students can use friends and neighbors as support groups; if not in person, then on social media.
There have been cases of discrimination against people based on their race and perceived ability to contract and spread COVID-19.
“We have to stop thinking that this is a disease of a particular people,” Fuller said. “We have to start banding together as a community because the enemy is the virus, not each other.”
Reach contributing writer Spencer Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @spencerwkelly_
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