End the coronavirus panic: What you need to know

Photo Illustration

Sam Underwood

Photo Illustration

Amy Pachla, Copy Chief

The information included here has come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov), the World Health Organization (WHO.int), the National Institutes of Health (NIH.gov), the Kern County Department of Public Health (KernPublicHealth.com), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH.ca.gov) and Johns Hopkins University Medicine (HopkinsMedicine.org). It is current as of March 23, 2020. 

  As U.S. hospitals begin to see the surge of COVID-19 patients and the number of infected skyrockets worldwide, the need for the public to be informed about SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is more important than ever. Given the nature of the situation, information is moving fast, often literally at the speed of light, as hospitals, doctors, and researchers share their real-time findings online around the world. 

  Globally, the number of confirmed infected is 332,935 with over 14,000 deaths. In the United States, there are 33,453 confirmed cases with 400 deaths. The virus has been confirmed in 190 of Earth’s 195 countries, all 50 of the United States and in all her territories and commonwealths. 

  In the state of California, there are 1,733 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 837 of which occurred in people between the ages of 18 and 49, with 27 deaths. On March 23, the Kern County Department of Public Health confirmed 11 cases of COVID-19 in Kern County. So far, all of those patients are being treated. 

  Coronaviruses are nothing new to the human species. Some of what we brush off as common colds are the result of coronavirus infection. Medical scientists first discovered the orthocoronavirinae family of viruses in the 1960s. The virus’ size, the largest of the known RNA viruses, makes it easy to see with proper magnification, and the virus’ name, corona, comes from the crown or halo-like appearance of the protein spikes that cover its surface. 

  As many as 80% of the people who will contract COVID-19 will have the symptoms of a mild cold, if they have any symptoms at all. This is not uncommon with coronaviruses, as humans have historically weathered them well. The difference with this new coronavirus is its aggressive transmission rate. A few minutes in close contact with an infected person, whether they are symptomatic or not, is often all it takes to spread the virus. 

  This is what makes the virus so lethal. Any virus or bacteria that causes respiratory distress carries the risk of becoming deadly for those with weak or compromised respiratory systems. With COVID-19 spreading so quickly from people who may have no symptoms at all, and with no available vaccine or cure, the sheer number of people who will have severe symptoms within such a short time frame will overload the health care system. In the next few weeks, the U.S. could be seeing the kind of situation hospitals in Italy and Iran are experiencing, where doctors are being forced to ration resources, choosing who gets treatment and who must wait. Often, that wait is simply too long. 

  As schools, businesses, states, and countries close borders, minimize operations to the bare essentials, and convert from in-person to online and remote work, we seek as a whole to prevent a system overload. Health care and health information providers all offer the same general rules for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

  Wash your hands often, especially when returning to your home after being out. Avoid touching things in public, such as door handles and ATM keypads, with your bare hands. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands. Clean the things in your environment that you touch regularly, such as your phone, your remote control, and your doorknobs. Avoid large gatherings and places that might attract a crowd, and maintain a six-foot buffer zone around yourself in public. 

  The washing of hands and the maintaining of social distance is critical to stopping the spread of the virus. The virus’ size prevents it from remaining airborne for more than 30 minutes, and its spiky shape means it interacts with different surfaces differently, affecting how long it can remain alive on various surfaces.  

  The National Institutes of Health conducted research into how long SARS-CoV-2 in particular can live on different surfaces. The shortest duration, two hours, was recorded on contact with copper. The longest, three days, were on contact with plastic and stainless steel. On paper and cardboard, materials often found in food and product packaging, the virus can live about 24 hours. Generally, the more porous a surface is, with the exception of copper metal, the more rapidly it debilitates the virus. Researchers do not yet know what effect, if any, changes in environmental temperature might have on the virus. 

  What researchers do know, however, is that your best weapon against COVID-19 is soap. This virus, as are all coronaviruses, is encased in a waxy coating, making it more than able to stand up against plain water. Just as soap breaks up the grease on your dishes and the oils on your skin, it breaks up the coating of the coronavirus, dissolving it away and rendering the virus inert.  

  This process is not immediate, however. It takes between 20 and 30 seconds of contact for the soap to get in there and rip the virus apart. Sing the alphabet song as you lather to help make sure you’re using the soap for an effective amount of time, and make sure you cover all the surfaces of your hands, front and back, down to the wrist. 

  Lastly, remember that we are all in this together. The more we learn, the better equipped we become not only to defeat this virus, but to face those which will come in the future. Sign up for the COVID-19 newsletter issued by the CDC for the latest information. Follow the social distancing guidelines put forth by the authorities. Do not listen to or repeat the various rumors and conspiracy theories circulating about the virus. Wash your hands. 

  If we as individuals act purposefully and mindfully now, we will see the other side of this together.