On Saturday February 29th, 2020, Washington State health officials confirmed the first death on US soil caused by the novel Coronavirus of 2019, or COVID-19. The deceased had not traveled outside of the US which leads us to believe the case was “community-acquired.” This means the illness was spread from person-to-person in the community much like the flu. Although the US government has minimized the public health risk for as long as possible, it seems we have reached a turning point in this outbreak. If community-acquired incidences are now becoming fatalities, then I believe the worst effects of this outbreak remain in front of us.
At the time of writing, there are 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, in addition to the 44 individuals evacuated from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, and 3 individuals repatriated to the US from Wuhan, China but I want to point out that we are only discussing “confirmed” cases. If you are like me, then at some point in your life, you have developed a cold and chose to not go see a doctor. For most folks who will contract COVID-19 their symptoms will be no worse than a common cold, so our measurements of the disease’s prevalence may be far lower than the truth. It is worth noting, however, the mortality rate for COVID-19, to the best of our knowledge, is 20-30 times higher than influenza. This illness can be deadly. It is not just another common cold.
The impacts of COVID-19 have not been limited to physical ailments. President Trump announced on Saturday the US will implement restrictions and advisories on travel to and from South Korea, Iran, and Italy as the number of infected individuals in each of those countries is ballooning. Mexico has also reported 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 which has prompted some US officials to call for a strict closure of the southern border.
The US stock market has suffered this week also as speculation about supply chain disruptions have lead to bearish sell-offs. Even Grupo Modelo, which produces Corona Cerveza, has financially suffered as an unfortunate result of having the same name as the virus at large. Most concerning of all, Democrats have leveraged the impacts of the outbreak in their multiple campaigns against the President. As a healthcare professional, I take personal offense to the political weaponization of credible public health threats.
Let us also take a moment to discuss the myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the outbreak. No, surgical masks will not protect you so please do not go out and buy them. Yes, there is a canine vaccine against coronavirus but, no, it is not COVID-19. Yes, some disinfectant sprays are effective at killing coronavirus on hard non-porous surfaces, but as this specific virus is previously unknown to science we cannot evaluate the effectiveness of disinfectants in this context. No, the virus was not created in a lab.
Global epidemics of respiratory illnesses have previously happened just in our lifetimes and will continue to happen long after COVID-19 fades from the news headlines. Just like SARS and MERS from earlier in this century, COVID-19 probably emerged from a population of bats. World health pandemics are nothing new, but the way we communicate about them is. It is important to listen to reliable and up-to-date information.
The most reliable source of up-to-date information is the CDC itself. Do not rely on your Aunt on Facebook, or your friend who works at a hospital, or your essential oils salesperson for accurate public health information. In fact, we guarantee any data we relay to you regarding COVID-19 will be thoroughly vetted, but it is primarily sourced from local, state, and federal agencies. I strongly suggest to you, for your own well-being, to follow the CDC and your local health department for their latest updates and adhere to what they tell you.
We promise to keep you updated as the story develops.
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