We currently have no chance of stopping this outbreak. The virus is hiding all around us, in places we don’t suspect, like people with no symptoms, doorknobs, the baseball my kids just threw in the yard. Facing an invisible enemy is scary, especially when we don’t have the tools to fight it.
When public health goes to battle against an enemy like this, we often have vaccines, past data about the disease, ways to track the spread that we can link back to known cases, and quick and accurate diagnostic tests. It appears that we can’t count on any of that in this case. The best chance we have at a vaccine is a few years down the road, which isn’t helpful for our current situation. This is a novel (*new*) coronavirus, which means it is a new strain we haven’t seen in humans before. Even though scientists and researchers have been studying other human coronaviruses for many years, this one is different, and our public health and medical officials are working as quickly as they can to figure it out.
Public health uses “contact tracing” in outbreaks. This is where they identify and follow-up with people who may have come in contact with an infected person. They isolate people who might have been exposed to try to stop the spread. This is manageable in the early stages of an outbreak and in some smaller, contained outbreaks, but when the disease is spreading widely, how do you talk to all of the cases and figure out everyone they came in contact with? It’s just too big now. Add to that the fact that we don’t have enough tests to diagnose all of the cases, and you can see these efforts aren’t going to be able to stop the outbreak.
So, here’s what we are trying to do–slow it down. We have the tools for that. They aren’t as sexy, and they are going to be very inconvenient and last a while, but they’ll do the trick if we do them right. If we ALL do them right. Stop going to big gatherings, events, etc. If you are in charge of them, cancel them. If you run a business, and your employees can telework, send them home. If you run a business that must continue to stay open, clean surfaces regularly, and keep soap and sanitizer on hand. Don’t shake hands with people. Don’t you dare go anywhere if you are sick. But, if you are well, be a good neighbor and friend. Offer to share your toilet paper supply with someone who couldn’t get to the store before everyone bought it. Make dinner for someone who isn’t feeling well and leave it by the front door. Offer to pick up anything an elderly friend needs so that they don’t have to brave a crowd. Do what you can to stop the spread while being kind.
Don’t mistake this approach with a ghost repellant. It isn’t going to stop COVID-19. However, it is going to buy us a little time. With every extra minute we get, we can better prepare. We can set up more hospital beds, we can get more medications and hospital equipment, and we can train more healthcare professionals. Ultimately, the more time we buy, the closer we get to more effective treatments and even a vaccine one day. If we can keep those who are most vulnerable safe for a little while longer, maybe we’ll be able to figure out how to protect them from this disease long-term. I can tell you that my kids’ grandparents are looking forward to the day they can hug my kids again, but until I know my kids can’t get them sick, they’ll wave at them from the window and talk to them on the phone. We are all in a hurry to slay this ghost, but we are going to do our part to hide from it until we figure out the best plan of attack.
Dr. Leslie Rodriguez joined Karna as the Senior Director of Public Health Programs. She has over 20 years of experience in Public Health Communications with expertise in Emergency Management and Evaluation and Assessment