To many people, it may seem like the media frenzy surrounding the outbreak of Coronavirus is overblown and causing undue panic. And while there is a greater sense of urgency about this outbreak of a new virus, I’d like to share with you why I think it’s valid for us all to be concerned and take some rather simple actions now that could keep things from spiraling out of control.
What’s all the fuss?
COVID-19 (known commonly as the coronavirus) is more than just “a bad flu” – in fact, with a mortality rate of 1-2% of those infected, COVID-19 has the potential of killing 10x to 20x the rate of the regular flu. And because no one has ever had this virus before, no one is yet immune to the disease.
The World Health Organization projects that 40-70% of the world’s population will be infected with COVID-19 by the time a vaccine is finally developed. That’s a pretty staggering statistic – and it might lead some people to think there’s nothing that can be done. That’s where panic can seize hold and exaggerate the problems we’re already facing in terms of community health and economic vitality.
You see, there are things we can do to slow the spread of the disease. While we may end up with half of the people on the planet becoming infected, we’ll be able to take care of those most significantly afflicted if we succeed in “flattening the curve” of infections. That means slowing the spread of the disease enough to avoid overloading our hospitals so there are enough ICU beds and ventilators to go around.
What can we do about it?
Whether you believe the scientist and health officials’ warnings or you believe it’s all just media hype – taking the following steps will help protect the most vulnerable ones in our society:
• Because of delays in the availability of testing, we assume that the virus is already here. Do not attend social gatherings or events if you cannot maintain a 6-foot space between you and others. Businesses, organizations and families should cancel or postpone social gatherings/community events of 250 people or more now. This is to prevent transmission from person-to-person, it applies to all of us and all kinds of gatherings. The size of permissible events will drop steeply as cases are identified and local transmission is established in the metro area.
• If you develop COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), you must call ahead to your medical provider or walk-in clinic. You must not go to an office, clinic or walk-in without giving them the chance to protect their staff and other patients if you are infected.
• Avoid non-essential travel. If you must travel locally, regionally or beyond, know if the virus is spreading at your destination. This will reduce your risk of becoming infected and allow you to defer travel if your destination is experiencing sustained person-to-person transmission. State and local health departments at your destination will know and their web sites will contain the information.
• The need for primary and secondary school closures is being assessed. We completely understand the impacts of these closings — the need for childcare, disruptions of programs like school lunch and many other things. Fortunately, we are entering spring break and have time to think about this in consultation with key stakeholders.
• Stay home if you are sick. Contact your provider by phone or online for advice. Protect the people you live with using the commonsense steps below.
• Take these measures to protect yourself and others. Most are common sense and, maybe more important, good manners.
• Clean your hands often. Soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds are best. This is important especially after you touch surfaces like doorknobs and railings that might be contaminated by the coughs and sneezes of others. This removes and kills the virus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers work but are second best to soap and water.
• Keep your unwashed hands away from your face and eyes where the virus gets in.
• Avoid close contact with other people, especially if they have signs of a cold or flu. If you don’t come into contact with the virus, you won’t get sick. Best evidence tells us that about 6 feet of separation will be effective.
• Again, stay home if you’re sick — don’t risk giving the virus to others.
Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably using your elbow or disposable tissues, not your hands.
• Clean surfaces that may be contaminated using standard household disinfectants. They work.
• Make sure you have the medical supplies you need for self-care.
• Don’t panic — it doesn’t help. If we work together we will weather this.
• Access reliable information from public health experts, especially your state and local health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Avoid spreading misinformation from unreliable sources in broadcast and social media and the internet.
You’ll find even more recommendations and a clear-eyed assessment of the situation locally from Dr. Louis Katz, the medical director of the Scott County Health Department.
What are we doing about it?
Finally, there are steps even the City of Riverdale can take to help forestall the spread of COVID-19 in the Quad Cities. Although no cases have been reported yet, it is inevitable coronavirus will appear here. Thankfully, community leaders have formed a task force of elected officials, city/county professionals and health experts (including our local healthcare organizations, both private and public) to address this very fluid situation.
Last Friday, I was in attendance at the press conference held by the COVID-19 Coalition. As a result of that press conference and several other meetings held in both Scott County and Rock Island County, we will also be participating in daily briefing calls of elected officials to make sure we’re aware of the latest news concerning public health and the spread of this virus.
Meetings will be held this week with public health officials and school superintendents in Iowa to discuss school closure plans following spring break week. We’ll share that news as soon as we become aware of it. Look for announcements on the City’s website and the Riverdale Residents Facebook Page.
Elected officials will also be reviewing plans for public events at our next City Council meeting (on March 24) to determine if any of them need to be delayed or cancelled. Most notably, the first event we’ll need to discuss will be the Egg Hunt in Peggy’s Park scheduled for April 4th.