Disease outbreaks are humble reminders of just how interconnected we are.
As we’ve seen with SARS, Ebola, and now COVID-19, what happens in one part of the world impacts all of us. Health is truly a global, not local issue.
It can be overwhelming to consider how quickly a disease can spread among us. But given how interconnected we are, in a sense, COVID-19 is actually presenting us with an opportunity: we each have a critical role to play in stopping the spread of this virus.
Perhaps Claire Mills, MSF’s Medical Director, said it best:
“This pandemic requires solidarity, not only between countries but at all levels — based on mutual aid, cooperation, transparency, the sharing of resources, and, in the affected areas, towards the most vulnerable populations and towards caregivers.”
We’ve experienced many disease outbreaks in the past. What makes COVID-19 so different?
Unlike Ebola, COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, which makes it highly contagious. And unlike SARS, this coronavirus can be transmitted even by people who aren’t yet showing symptoms. This, combined with the fact that no vaccine is available, is causing COVID-19 to spread rapidly around the world.
Given the exponential nature of transmission, the number of cases can nearly double overnight. If public health interventions are not introduced quickly, the burden of these cases on our health systems will be too much to manage.
Put more simply, if nothing is done to stop the spread of this pandemic, there won’t be enough health workers and hospital beds available for patients. If that happens, health professionals would be left with no other option but to decide which patients to treat, which has already been happening in Italy. But we can change this narrative. There is a way for us to collectively flatten the curve of this outbreak.
You’ve probably heard by now that young people such as children or Millennials aren’t at a high risk of experiencing severe symptoms for COVID-19. So what’s the big deal? Why make a fuss?
We need to consider that seniors and immunocompromised folks are particularly susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms. In other words, if a relatively healthy, young person were to contract the virus, although they would likely only experience mild symptoms, they could pass COVID-19 on to someone who’s at a higher risk of severe illness. That’s a big but exciting responsibility that a lot of us can play in curbing this pandemic and protecting the most vulnerable. Predictions show between 40-70% of the world’s population could become infected with COVID-19. However, many of these cases can be avoided if we act in solidarity, and if we do this now.
To halt the spread, governments are introducing drastic measures including city- and country-wide lockdowns, border closings, school and recreation facility closures, and mandatory 14-day quarantines after international travel. Organizations are similarly shutting down sporting events and seasons and calling off parades.
Although these measures are drastic, if we follow them and other public health guidelines, the total number of people infected would decrease substantially.
To avoid becoming infected with COVID-19 and spreading the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends:
In addition to these, other practices are being recommended, such as not taking part in large gatherings or going out to restaurants. In some places, these extra measures are already being enforced.
Interventions like these are inconvenient, overwhelming and even anxiety-inducing. But as a powerful visual like this shows, measures such as social distancing can have big impacts during a pandemic. It can save lives.
Many people are coming together during COVID-19 to protect the health of themselves and their communities. Here are just some recent examples:
We’re in an unusual time right now. Things seem uncertain. But in many ways, COVID-19 is actually an opportunity for us to come together to halt the spread of this virus.
As Meghan O’Rourke points out: “COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to frame our fears not in the context of panic or overwhelming anxiety, but as care. Our interconnectedness is part of the very meaning of life… [we need to shift our] thinking from an individual-first to a communitarian ethos.”
It’s critical, now more than ever, to work together. It will, and already is, saving lives.
March 19, 2020
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