It isn’t time to dust off the hazmat suit quite yet, but standard precautions are definitely in order to prevent the coronavirus from doing more harm than it already has. The second case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States and 63 potential cases are being monitored as of Friday morning.
What’s worse is that the second case, which involves a woman in her 60s in the Chicago area, was not detectable with standard precautions when she flew back to the United States from Wuhan in China on January 13. It was four days later that she started feeling symptoms and only today nearly two weeks after she arrived back in America, was her diagnosis confirmed.
Is it time to panic? No. Despite 26 deaths and over 900 known cases of the disease worldwide, the World Health Organization has declined to declare an emergency. This is mostly for economic reasons; health emergencies greatly disrupt worldwide trade, travel, and tourism. But they are doctors first and if they felt the disease was growing out of control, they’d call the emergency and let the markets deal with the economy later.
There are three things that need to be done now just in case the coronavirus starts getting uglier in the United States.
- Airlines and airports must adopt strict screening processes, including quarantines and tests, for anyone traveling back from heavily infected countries. Currently, that’s only China. Blood tests can take 4-6 hours once samples are received by a lab, so it may be necessary to take samples from those who are not showing symptoms and call them once the results are back. Those showing symptoms should be quarantined until their test results come back negative.
- Knowledge is the best defense against outbreaks. Doctors should communicate to their patients that if they experience symptoms, they need to coordinate with the doctor’s office to set up a test. Sending a bunch of people to the hospital could exacerbate the problem, as China is learning, because hospitals can become breeding grounds for viruses. It’s up to the personal healthcare professionals of this nation to be the tip of the spear in informing people of the precautions they should take.
- Americans need to be in full viral mode. That means washing hands regularly, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth areas, and avoiding crowded places like public transportation whenever possible. Again, it’s not a time to panic, but staying healthy when there are unknown risks is always easiest when the right defenses are put in place. Thoroughly washing one’s hands is the best way to prevent and contain it. Hand sanitizer is probably fine, but it’s not a replacement for lots of soap and hot water. Face masks when out in public wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.
It isn’t wise to wait until a case of the coronavirus is found in one’s area. This potential epidemic spreads quickly, but symptoms do not always appear immediately. We need to stay cautious and practice proper sanitation, which is a best practice anyway.