In light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I figured I would fill you in on some of the essential information. As a medical professional, it is my expert opinion that you immediately stop reading this and:
- Speed to Costco, Walmart, or Sam’s Club to buy 14 years worth of toilet paper
- Steal any bottled water your fellow shoppers have in their carts (because the shelves are bare, and you deserve that water more)
- Book a deeply discounted cruise
Yes, there is a certain degree of hysteria swirling around with this pandemic. All jokes aside, this article is designed to give you a quick run down on FACTS surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. Full disclosure: this is a dynamic situation with lots changing on a day-to-day basis, but the basic understanding of infectious illness and precautions remains fairly constant – it is our society’s reaction that seems to fluctuate so wildly.
Coronaviruses, are a large family of viruses with which we are all familiar – for example many versions of the ‘common cold’ are coronaviruses. The term was given to this family of viruses based on their microscopic appearance (‘corona’ is the Latin word for ‘crown’ or ‘wreath’).
The current virus, a newly mutated version of a coronavirus, that originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China towards the end of 2019, has since spread around the world. The official name for this virus is actually “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” and the illness that comes from infection is called “coronavirus disease (COVID-19).” So, if you want to sound really obnoxious at a cocktail party, correct some unsuspecting do-gooder when they incorrectly use the terms. Then make sure you wash your hands before grabbing more hors d’oeuvres.
What You Need to Know
Coronavirus disease 2019 – aka COVID-19 – is the illness that is sweeping the world by storm. How dangerous is it? How concerned should you be? That all depends on how you look at it. To be fair, COVID-19 is a deadly disease with mortality rates far higher than other common infectious illnesses. It is hard to say with absolute confidence how lethal it is, but a commonly used, and presumably accurate number is a mortality rate of 2%. To put that in perspective, the mortality rate for the seasonal flu virus we face each winter, is about 0.1%. Last flu season, nearly 35 million Americans had the flu resulting in about 35,000 deaths. As of this writing, there have been a reported 1,629 confirmed cases in the US, resulting in 41 deaths (mortality rate of 2.5%). Locally, we have 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washoe County.
The real question then becomes, how many people will get infected? Let’s assume that COVID-19 infects a similar number of Americans as the flu virus last year, with these mortality rates the number of dead would be nearly 1,000,000. Insert the desperate efforts around the world to slow the spread of the virus.
That was the bad news. Now some (relatively) good news. COVID-19 predominantly affects the chronically ill and elderly. The mortality rate is comparable to the flu for infants, children, teenagers, young adults, and even middle age adults. It isn’t until about age 50 – 60 that the illness gets more serious. In fact, over 80% of people infected only have mild cold or flu-like symptoms. Most children don’t have any symptoms at all. But in the groups over age 60, the mortality rate starts to climb dramatically.
Based on numbers in China (assuming they are fairly accurate), the death rate soars to 14.8% in those 80 and older; among those ages 70 to 79, the COVID-19 death rate in China seems to be about 8%; it’s 3.6% for those ages 60 to 69; 1.3% for 50 to 59. Similar numbers are coming out of Italy (one of the hardest hit countries and a source of reliable data).
As you can see, COVID-19 is a serious disease. It appears to be quite contagious and given the mortality numbers, especially in the elderly or chronically ill, we can assume a serious impact around the world. Aside from the deaths attributable to the illness, most of us we deal more directly with the indirect effects of the pandemic. So… what to do?
How Should We Respond?
As I mentioned, for most readers of this article (fathers and mothers dealing with young-ish children), the risks for serious illness are low. But as a society, we owe it to those at higher risk to protect them and minimize the spread of this disease.
With that in mind, the actions taken by government, corporations, sporting leagues, etc. make more sense. We are trying to limit the spread of the disease – not necessarily to protect you or I (since we would likely not have a severe illness at all), but to protect our grandparents and older neighbors and such.
The severity of responses is varying around the world. Some countries are shutting down schools and all public gatherings. Others are selectively targeting areas with more restrictions. As of now, there hasn’t been any significant disruption to public life in Reno aside from private businesses proactively changing meeting and work plans. But this could all change. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would suspect many of us will end up seeing dramatic actions locally. But we’ll see…
What Can I Do?
First off, if you are ill – if you feel off, have a fever, cough, shortness of breath… stay home. If symptoms are severe, contact your physician (if you are seriously concerned or are having trouble breathing, go to the nearest ER – and minimize contact with anyone).
Wash your hands. Wash them properly and often. 20 seconds minimum. Avoid touching your face (this is harder than you think).
Avoid crowded places. Do you need to avoid school events or sporting events? Not yet, but be prepared for that to change. Again, if you or anyone in your family or at work has any signs of illness, consider protecting others and staying home.
Don’t stockpile toilet paper or bottled water. Avoid the tendency to panic.
Officially, released at the time of this writing, the Washoe County Health District put out the following recommendations to reduce the transmission of COVID-19:
“The best ways for people to reduce their risk of getting sick, and preventing COVID-19 are:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home if you are sick
- Try alternatives to shaking hands, like an elbow bump
- There is no recommendation to wear masks at this time to prevent yourself from getting sick
- If possible, work from home”
Take Away Points
- COVID-19 is a serious and contagious disease – the predominant and worrisome symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
- Kids and young adults do not appear to be at significant risk for serious illness or death. Older and chronically ill individuals are at a higher risk.
- Avoid spreading the disease – even if you are not at risk of serious illness personally.
- Stay calm – and stay informed.
See https://washoecounty.us/ for more local information on COVID-19.
A 5th generation Nevadan, Daniel Hansen is a proud husband and father to five boys. After medical school and completion of an anesthesiology residency at the Mayo Clinic, he and his wife decided there is no better place to raise a family than Reno and have been back since 2018.