We’re getting a lot of mixed messages about the current pandemic, what most people want to know: Is it time to panic?
yes…and no (both in some ways). First of all, panicking rarely leads to informed and rational decisions, so, take a breath.
Over the last few weeks my office has been flooded with people, almost all with some degree of anxiety about the current pandemic, others are asking, “Is this something I should be worried about?”
Short answer is yes, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
As the progression of this pandemic has been unfolding, events have been playing out much like the plot of Contagion, which honestly, is scary as Hell. So, what should, and shouldn’t we be worried about in all this?
- COVID-19 is just a bad flu, right?
NOOOOOOOOO COVID-19 is a novel virus. Viruses are masters of evolution. How does it work? Something foreign gets introduced, our immune system (hopefully quickly) identifies the foreign invader as foe, not friend, and goes to work. Fortunately, in most healthy people our immune system is able identify and defeat the treat. More good news, our immune system remembers this foreign invader—so, in the future if it tries to attack again, we already have a battle plan formed.
A misunderstanding about COVID-19 is that it is just ‘a bad flu.’ Yes, Influenza (the virus that causes the flu) evolves into different strains or ‘types,’ but our bodies still have some sort of attack strategy to deal with it.
COVID-19 is not that. It is a novel virus. This means our bodies have not encountered this foreign invader before, and we have no game plan. We don’t know what to predict or how to deal with it.
- I mean lots of people die from the flu though every year, right?
Yes! This is something that oftentimes people don’t understand, the flu kills a large number of people each year, but here are some big differences between the flu and COVID-19:
COVID-19 is way more contagious. Data about this virus is still new, and is changing, but right now here’s what we know:
For every person infected with the flu the estimated rate of transmission is about 1.3 (so every person who has the flu will transmit it to 1.3 [because statistics, yay!] people.
COVID-19’s estimated transmission rate is between 2-3. Take a second to map this out Pay It Forward style to realize how quickly that escalates.
Not only is this virus more transmittable, it Is more deadly. Again, this is something in constant flux as we get more data, but as of mid-March it is estimated that COVID-19 may be as much as 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu. Globally each year between 300,000-600,000 people die from the flu. Of the total people annually who get infected with the flu, one in 1,000 people die, with COVID-19 the death rate is estimated as high as 10 in 1,000.
- Don’t most people recover?
Yes, thank goodness! BUT a big problem is our hospital resources. The seasonal flu is somewhat predictable, we can somewhat plan for it and we have the resources to deal with it over a span of several months. COVID-19 is straight up slapping us in the face. So, people are getting sicker, and at a faster rate.
Think about a time you walked into an ER, swarming with people, and having to wait hours upon hours on some random Tuesday, impatient and annoyed. You know how there’s been a mad dash for toilet paper, and now you can’t find a grocery store with a single roll on its shelf? The same thing happens with medical care. So, when a large amount of people gets sick all at once, the system gets exhausted. There’s a limited amount of what we need to treat sick people: doctors, nurses, techs, CNAs, beds, medication, masks, gowns, gloves, etc.) With the seasonal flu we’re used to it, and it can generally be spread out over the course of a few months. With COVID-19 we’re jamming all of that (in a more contagious, deadlier form) into WEEKS or DAYS, not months.
- I don’t feel sick, so I can’t have the virus or transmit it to other people, right?
No! COVID-19 has a decently long incubation period, (the time it takes someone infected to become symptomatic) of up to 14 days. This means you may be carrying the virus without knowing it, coming into contact with multiple people, possibly transmitting it to each and every one of them. Think of it this way, unless you’re a diagnosable sociopath, you probably would not knowingly infect others with any kind of disease. The people who infect others usually “feel fine” or “have a little cold.” We don’t know we’re infecting others as we’re doing it: we pick up and carry a virus, several days later we might catch an unexpected cough in our hand, we shake hands with a colleague in a meeting, that person rubs his nose, adjusts his contact lens, and grabs a bagel to munch on. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- I don’t feel sick/I’m young/hot/invincible, so I don’t see how this affects me.
Let me be blunt: It’s not about you. Yes, as a young, healthy person you’re much less likely to die from the virus if you get it, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to it. Instead of killing you, it might take you down for the count and you may spend a few days on the couch Netflix’ing it up (*ahem* what you would be doing during self-isolation anyways….), however all of the people you have contact with, directly and indirectly, may not be so lucky. You may feel fine, or “not so bad” and maybe go visit your grandparents. You spend a few hours with them, laughing with them, feeding them, hugging them. Their immune systems aren’t able to fight off the virus as well as yours and are much more likely to require hospitalization or die from the infection.
- I still don’t think this is a big deal, I don’t know why everyone’s freaking out.
A lot of peoples’ lives, in a lot of ways you probably don’t consider, depend on containing outbreaks like this.
Our nurses, doctors, CNAs, techs, social workers, hospital security, janitorial/food services, etc. are exposed to everything that comes into the hospital. Nurses and doctors often have the most direct contact with patients which puts them at significant risk for transmission of many viruses. Right now, these professionals are having to do their jobs with objectively inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment, i.e. masks, gowns, gloves). These people show up every day to provide care to others knowing they may be putting their own health at risk. A person being careless with preventable contagions is a giant FU to these people (who will still provide care, even to people who are putting them at the greatest risk).
Consider the trickle-down effect of other people requiring medical care. Our hospitals being overrun with people in need of medical treatment for these viral infections in itself exhausts the available resources, and if the pandemic follows projections (as it has so far) they will not be able to care for the nearly the amount of infected patients in need, let alone patients requiring medical care for other reasons.
Hospital resources being exhausted not only impacts people exposed to the virus, it impacts people needing treatment for other medical conditions. In addition to hospitals being unable to accommodate for the expected influx of COVID-19 patients this will render them unable to provide adequate care for the average/routine/or expected patients needing hospital treatment Procedures or treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, non-immediately essential surgeries may be postponed.
*You probably won’t die from it if you’re a young, healthy person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spread it to others who will
*You can spread the virus without being symptomatic
*This is a new animal we’re dealing with, and still we’re still figuring it out
*Even if you’re not worried about getting it, please think about the spread to elderly/ immunocompromised people, as well as healthcare workers that unintentionally happens.
I get it, it stinks to not be out living your best life, but we all need to suck it up for a few weeks. The key to really slowing the spread of this and getting us all out of this as quickly as possible really is the young demographic, who may not be symptomatic, but have a lot of contact with many people, and carrying the virus. PLEASE, as a medical professional, please understand the faster we can contain this, the faster we can all get back to regular life; and the best way we can contain this is to stay the F home.
-Stay healthy, take care of yourselves. The best things we can do right now:
- Stay home.
- When you have to leave for groceries/essentials keep your space between other people
- Wash your hands!
- Stop touching your face!
- Stay calm. The sooner we can do all the above, the sooner we will get out of this.
- For the love of Pete leave some TP for the rest of us! If you need that much toilet paper, I strongly suggest you see a gastroenterologist like, yesterday.
- Maybe the most important: Be kind. People working in grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, healthcare workers are people too. Everyone is stressed right now. Let’s take a breath and understand we’re all in this together.
***A GIANT THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR FIRST RESPONDERS, HEALTHCARE WORKERS, GROCERY/CONVIENCE STORE EMPLOYEES/UTILITY WORKERS/ANYONE WHO IS STILL HAVING TO SHOW UP TO WORK—THANK YOU FOR KEEPING US FED, WARM, AND SAFE AS POSSIBLE***