Dr. Fredia S. Wadley, Talbot County’s health officer, outlined common precautions to take and exposed some misconceptions about coronavirus during a Monday afternoon briefing at the Talbot County Department of Emergency Services.
She noted that flu deaths in the U.S. had totaled 14,0oo as of Friday, with 310,000 hospitalizations for the virus. Among 40-plus countries with reported cases of coronavirus, there may have been 3,000 deaths.
“The flu will end up being far worse than coronavirus,” Wadley said. “The coronavirus, on one hand, is your common cold. Viruses mutate.”
“This is a panic,” she said. “The reason for the panic is number one, it’s new. And the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. When we say we don’t know everything about it, then people go a little bit crazy.”
Wadley also noted that it’s an election year “and both sides are saying ‘I can be a better leader’ and they’re more worried about public image than they are public health.”
“I’m not saying this to say that there’s not a concern about a coronavirus, it’s a new virus,” she said. “One reason for really trying to contain it and keep it in China is if you can get it not so widespread, you may not get it seasonally next year and flare up again.
“Needless to say, it hasn’t been contained but that still doesn’t mean we have any reason to panic,” Wadley said.
Another factor in the panic is that “nobody really believes the government anymore … there’s always a conspiracy theory.
“I’ve said all along there’s no way you win in a public health scenario like this,” Wadley said, citing her 33 years of experience. “If you jump in immediately, you’re causing panic. If you wait to see what the virus is about, then you’re waiting too late.
“So what you try to do is stay down the middle of the road, use the facts that you know, when you know them, (and) tell the people,” she said.
Wadley said the same precautions against the flu work for the coronavirus:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid crowds when the virus is known to be spreading.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, or cough/sneeze into your bent arm.
• Soiled tissues can transmit the flu or this virus, so dispose of the tissues in the trash.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects in your home and at work.
• Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
This video is approximately twelve minutes in length
What You Need To Know
• Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in many different species. There are many strains of coronavirus which affect humans, some of which cause mild illness such as the “common cold” and others cause more severe illness, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus that had not caused illness in humans before December 2019.
• The virus spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets (in coughs, sneezes, or regular breathing or talking), so close contact of six feet or less increases the risk of transmitting the infection.
• Symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.
• Currently, individuals at risk of infection are people who have recently traveled to China; have close, personal contact with those recent travelers; or have close, personal contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19.
• The severity of illness can range from mild to severe respiratory difficulty and even death; some individuals may experience no symptoms. Most people recover from the infections, with close to 80% of those infected experiencing mild or moderate symptoms. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
• Elderly individuals and people with chronic illnesses have greater risk for severe illness. Examples of such chronic illnesses include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and conditions impacting the immune system’s ability to fight germs.
• Current treatment for the disease, when needed, is supportive care to relieve symptoms. A subset of cases may need to be hospitalized.
• There is a push for rapid vaccine development but no vaccine is available at this time. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus by taking everyday preventive precautions.