IT WAS not that long ago, it seems, when we all were thinking about what we would do if the novel coronavirus spreading around the globe causing the COVID-19 illness were to reach this area. Now, we must realize there is no if and prepare for what we will do when it arrives.
In fact, it might already be here, but we just don't know it. The virus can have a 14-day incubation period, meaning that those infected might be carrying and spreading it for up to two weeks before they even realize they are sick. That, combined with a high transmission rate, means the virus can move quite quickly through a population. Remember, the very first case of this illness was reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, less than three months ago. In that short period of time, nearly 150,000 people have been sickened, and more than 5,000 people have died.
Thankfully, for young people and otherwise healthy adults, COVID-19 has an extremely high recovery rate. For people over the age of 60, however, or who have an underlying condition or compromised immune system, the fatality rate can exceed 10%.
Before you brush off that fact, remember nearly half of all American adults have heart disease, according to a study published last year by the American Heart Association, far more than many of the countries where more-serious outbreaks are now occurring. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2017 that nearly 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes.
Add in the number of Americans living with autoimmune disorders, severe asthma or otherwise-compromised immune systems -- such as cancer and organ-transplant patients -- and you're looking at an enormous number of people who will be particularly vulnerable to the disease.
So what should we do? First and foremost, don't panic. Yes, we should all be a little fearful because fear is part of our survival instinct. But we should be using that fear to our advantage and letting it guide us to make better choices to protect ourselves.
The best choices we can make are to meticulously wash our hands at every opportunity and refrain from touching our eyes, noses or mouths. Also, clean and thoroughly disinfect daily the surfaces you touch on a regular basis. That cellphone you probably have in your hand? Make sure you clean it with a disinfectant wipe several times a day.
You should also avoid close contact with those who appear ill and be prepared to practice social distancing -- staying away from others, particularly large crowds -- once cases begin to appear here.
Of course, if you are ill, you must stay home, except to get medical care. This is of vital importance.
All those people with underlying conditions are counting on the rest of us to do our part to protect them. We know this coronavirus cannot be stopped, but slowing its spread will be key to saving lives.
Why is slowing the spread so important? This will allow our health care infrastructure to better care for all patients. For example, if the health care providers in any one town have 20 ventilators available, and 10 already are in use, 20 patients showing up the same day who each need a ventilator leaves 10 people who must go without, increasing the likelihood of unfortunate outcomes.
And equipment aside, while our doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are the best in the world, we only have so many of them, and they're each only able to do so much.
We must do all we can to blunt a spike in cases and allow those who do become ill to get the treatment they need.
Which brings us back to not panicking. The best way to keep from panicking is to stay informed. When you hear people complain about "the media," remember nearly all reputable media outlets -- including The Herald-Whig and WGEM -- are doing our level best to inform people so they can make smart choices and not succumb to hysteria surrounding the virus. That hysteria is largely the result of social media, where the voices of far too many pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists are echoed and amplified. Don't trust social media for accurate information; come get it directly from the source.
The one thing we are certain of regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is that this, too, shall pass. We will get through this. While we wait, we must do everything that we can to help as many of our family, friends and neighbors as possible get through it with us.