In recent weeks, the topic of the coronavirus has been on everybody’s mind. As media attention has hyped up the potential dangers of the spread of this virus, mass panic has ensued, causing people to hoard sanitary supplies and become wary of going out in public without some type of protection. However, many still remain ignorant as to what the virus actually is, how it started, and whether or not there is a reason to be in this current state of mass panic.
The current strain of coronavirus going around right now, named COVID-19, originated in Wuhan, China in mid-December last year. The term “coronavirus” actually encompasses a wide range of viruses, from the common cold or pneumonia to more deadly viruses like the SARS and MERS viruses. Early on in the reported case of the novel coronavirus, doctors and patients had mistaken the symptoms for pneumonia, since COVID-19 causes a series of respiratory symptoms.
Chinese health authorities confirmed in early January that the virus had originated in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, and the first man to die from respiratory symptoms caused by COVID-19 had caught the virus at the market. From then on, the virus spread to other countries in the area, including Thailand and Japan. By January 21, US authorities confirmed the first case of the virus on US soil.
At the end of January, the Chinese government had cancelled all major activities planned for Lunar New Year celebrations and began blocking transportation in and out of Wuhan and other neighboring cities. As of right now, China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran are the countries with the highest number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with the US following not far behind, according to CNN.
If you’ve gone to a convenience store like Target or Walmart in the past few weeks, you may notice that sanitary products like disinfectant spray and antibacterial soap are on low stock, if not sold out completely. Even when shopping online, face masks are so difficult to acquire that some websites are selling packs for hundreds of dollars. However, there is a lot of debate surrounding the usage of face masks and whether or not they are worth buying in bulk, risking a shortage for healthcare professionals who actually need them to treat patients.
The United States Surgeon General, in a tweet sent on February 29th, urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
His warning echoes the instructions of the Center for Disease Control – only wear a mask if you are exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus or an adjacent respiratory illness.
Another reason that many doctors are not recommending people use face masks is partially because the typical thin variety that people wear does not do a satisfactory job of keeping the virus out from your airways. Moreover, viruses like COVID-19 can actually be transmitted through one’s eyes. The kind of surgical masks that healthcare workers wear are called “respirators,” and the N95 masks are the most commonly used type (N95 meaning that the mask filters out 95% of particles in the air).
According to Dr. Michael Hall, a CDC vaccine provider, “N95 masks are the most protective”, but are difficult to put on, so it is recommended that if you are planning to use one, refer to an instructional video about how to optimize the effect of the mask when wearing it.
The mask should be effective in preventing viruses from entering, but most people wear it incorrectly. When wearing the mask correctly, the wearer should feel hot and stuffy, possibly prompting them to take the mask off, letting microbes in. In fact, the stuffy and moist environment may even be more conducive to microbe growth, according to physician and medical advisor to the International Air Travel Association, Dr. David Powell.
The World Health Organization says the best ways to prevent becoming infected with the virus are to avoid touching your face, washing your hands frequently, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and maintaining a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Also, it is recommended that everyone stay updated with the WHO and the CDC’s frequent updates as to the state of the virus and the number of cases in the local area.
Hannah Monhardt, ‘20, says “since [she is] stressed with school and college, [she knows her] immune system is okay right now, but it will be greatly impaired soon, so that’s a reason to be more cautious.”
However, for most of us, there is no serious reason to worry. According to a study done by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus most seriously affects older people with pre-existing conditions, and 80% of coronavirus cases are mild. Within the age gap of ages 10-19, the mortality rate of the virus is 0.2%. On the other hand, the mortality rate rises to 1.3% in people ages 50-59, and 8% in people ages 70-79. This is most likely because people in those age groups have more pre-existing conditions, making them more susceptible to catching the virus. The overall mortality rate of the novel coronavirus is only 3.5%, compared to SARS’s 9.6% and Ebola’s 40.4%, according to research done by the WHO and the CDC.
In the end, most of us have no need to worry about catching the coronavirus, and, in the rare chance that somebody in our age group catches the virus, the case will most likely be very mild.
That being said, keeping up good hygiene habits is of paramount importance – because if you catch COVID-19, not only will you be put in harm’s way, but you may pass the virus on to those who are more at risk without even realizing it. We must also be sure to not be prejudiced in a time of panic and paranoia and avoid discrimination. There has been an overwhelming flood of xenophobia, particularly online, towards countries that have been affected by the virus, especially towards the country where it originated, China. There is no real way to determine whether or not a person has been in China or Wuhan in the past 14 days, and the xenophobia and paranoia directed at people of Chinese origin is completely unfounded. In these trying times, there is no place for division or discrimination; instead, it is crucial to enforce cooperation in order to stand united against this threat.