Preparation not panic; How to approach the coronavirus threat

From the World Health Organization to the Centers for Disease Control to public health agencies — the message is clear: Prepare but don’t panic when it comes to the coronavirus or COVID-19.

That may be easier advised than accomplished. As the virus sweeps across the globe — quarantining entire communities and crippling travel plans — creeping ever closer to home, it can be alarming. We here in the United States have watched this scenario play out in other countries, beginning with China. We have seen the videos of empty store shelves and streets, facemasks, mass hospital beds, suited-up healthcare workers and trucks spraying disinfectants.

Yes, more people have died from the common flu this year than they have from the coronavirus, but we don’t see this sort of response to the flu, so it can’t help but elevate our concerns. There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about COVID-19, but what we do know is unsettling. It appears to be highly contagious, and while most people will experience only mild symptoms, others aren’t so lucky. And yes, the majority of deaths can be attributed to those with pre-existing symptoms or the elderly, but not all. When 20-something doctors with access to the best possible healthcare die, we can’t help but wonder about our own mortality.

And now that the virus is spreading to persons with no known link to someone who has the disease or someone who has traveled to an affected country, how do we protect ourselves? How do you know if the person standing in front of you in the checkout line just returned from a vacation abroad, or for that matter visited someone at U.C. Davis Medical Center where now 120 healthcare workers are being self-quarantined because a patient there was diagnosed with COVID-19.

The CDC encourages us to protect ourselves from the virus by washing hands, refraining from touching our face, sanitizing surfaces and avoiding close personal contact with others. Close personal contact. What does that mean? According to the CDC, that means 6 feet. That’s a lot of space.

So yes, there is a lot that is concerning, but there is a lot that should be comforting. Countries are working together to share as much information as possible to contain and bring an end to this global threat. The best scientific minds in the world are working on drugs to combat COVID-19’s effects, as well as a vaccine to protect individuals from ever getting it. Locally, our public health agency, school officials and county leaders are coordinating their approach to the virus so that if a case is discovered here, the proper measures can be taken.

This is a story that isn’t going away soon, and whether or not there will be a happy ending remains uncertain. What is certain is that we should all be vigilant in protecting ourselves and others by doing all that we can to ensure proper hygiene and sanitation.