In the name of avoiding panic, we have grown lax. We have probably forgotten the age-old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’. In this time for urgent action, it requires the effort of all of us combined to protect each other from COVID-19. And every citizen of this nation must stay informed and do everything necessary to contain this pandemic. So, how can you do your part? Here’s a small guide on everything you need to know about the Coronavirus, COVID-19, and how you can prevent its spread and protect yourself from it.
What are COVID-19 and Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses in animals and humans. These infections can range from the common cold to more severe diseases like MERS (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The newest strain of this virus is causing the disease COVID-19. The new virus and disease were first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since then the virus has spread to several countries including India.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19? How does it spread?
The problem with COVID-19 is that its symptoms are very similar to seasonal flu and other viral diseases. The symptoms of a Coronavirus infection include fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. We have entered a stage where the spread of the disease is increasing.
The virus spreads from people who are infected by the virus to others. It is carried through droplets released from the mouth or nose during coughing or exhaling. The droplets can only travel a distance of 1 or 2 meters. Maintaining that much distance from those around you can protect you from the disease. However, the droplets can fall on surfaces on which it stays alive for up to 9 days. When a healthy human touch such a surface, upon which the virus might be, the virus can travel from their hands to inside their body if they touch their face (eyes, nose, or mouth), without washing their hands or sanitizing them.
What can I do to prevent the spread of Coronavirus?
Probably for the first time in the lifetime of all who are alive, such a disease has surfaced. A disease from which only we can protect ourselves. And the safety of our loved ones depends on our actions too. Coronavirus is already here and we must stay ahead of it. We are about to enter stage 3 of the spread of this virus, which is the community transmission stage. If we are unable to protect ourselves now, then the increase in the number of infected people will be exponential.
A nation is at stage one of disease transmission if it has only imported cases— those that come from another infected nation. Stage two is a localized transmission, in which those who come into contact with an imported case contract the illness. Community transmission happens at stage three, where even those people with no such interaction with an imported case test are positive for the disease. Social distancing becomes extremely important to contain the spread in stage 3. Countries around the world are practicing some form of this. With the most severe being lockdowns as seen in China and now, Italy. So, let’s look into this more.
What is social distancing?
Why has the Prime Minister asked us to stay indoors on the 22nd of March? This is the first step towards social distancing. Social distancing is completely avoiding contact with people unless it is necessary. This means avoiding public places or any gathering with more than 5 people. The most ideal step in social distancing is to stay inside your house. And don’t go anywhere unless necessary. Health experts are going so far as to say that even regular visits to doctors or elective surgeries should be postponed. Couples that are getting married are being told not to invite more than 20 people for their ceremonies and celebrations.
However, it is important to mention here that a single day of social distancing is not enough. We need at least 2-4 weeks of strict social distancing to effectively curb the spread of Coronavirus. If we are unable to curb this spread now, we might end up in lockdown. Please do not wait for the government to mandate a lockdown, impose a curfew for the next 4 weeks on yourself. The intensive need for social distancing has led to the lockdowns in Italy and previously in the Hubei province of China. So, why do we need to take such an aggressive step if taking preventive measures can protect us from the disease?
Why social distancing is so important?
To understand this, we need to know the difference between true cases and the official cases of coronavirus. The figures that we see on the news are of Coronavirus cases that have been diagnosed. This only includes people who go to the doctor to get tested. This means that at this time there are a lot of people who are infected but haven’t been identified. People with this disease are difficult to identify if they haven’t been tested. It takes 2-14 days for the symptoms to manifest and become visible.
This means that you might be standing next to someone who has the virus but is not showing any symptoms like cough, nasal congestion, etc. You can still get infected by someone who has the virus but isn’t displaying symptoms. For example, in South Korea, the authorities were able to contain the first 30 cases. But the 31st case that went unidentified infected thousands of others.
When we look back at the trends of spread, containment, and control of Coronavirus in Wuhan, the importance of social distancing becomes even more evident. China announced a lockdown on 23rd January 2020. On that day, the number of reported cases was a little over 400 (official cases). When in reality the number of infected people was over 2500 (true cases). As the lockdown went on the number of identified cases (official cases) started going up as infected people developed symptoms and started getting diagnosed. But the spread of the actual infection went down. The number of true cases, globally, has gone down with stringent social distancing.
The more seriously we practice social distancing the more we will be able to control the spread. If China had taken action one day sooner, that is if the lockdown has started on 22nd instead of 23rd, China would have reduced the number of true cases by 40%. Remember that in most of the countries, the number of true cases has always been 25-30 times more than the reported or diagnosed cases. So, the fact that we have just crossed 200 cases, doesn’t mean that only 200 people have been affected as of now.
It is quintessential that we avoid contact with anyone beyond our household. Yet, if you have to leave your house, or if you come in contact with objects from outside, make sure you take the necessary precautions.
How do I protect myself from the Coronavirus?
Here are a few steps that you must take to protect yourself from this disease:
- Practice hand hygiene: wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, every hour. Or every time you touch a surface about which you are unsure. If you don’t have access to soap and water, then use a sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol content.
- Wear face masks: Healthy people don’t need to wear facemasks unless they are taking care of a COVID-19 patient, or will be in the presence of one. However, if you need to urgently be in a crowded area, then it wearing a facemask is a must. The N-95 face mask is the recommended option.
- Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing or sneezing: No one at this point can be sure if they have been infected by the virus or not. Therefore, we must minimize the transmission of all droplets from your body.
- Maintain 2 meters distance: maintain at least 2 meters distance from the people around you. Being a heavy virus, the coronavirus cannot travel for more than 1 meter. Therefore, you are less likely to inhale it if you keep this much distance.
- Stay at home if you feel unwell: this is a season of flu and the common cold. However, it is advised that in case you show any symptoms that might remotely be Corona related, stay at home. Get in touch with your family doctor and get a consultation on what to do next.
- Sanitize and disinfect the surfaces that you frequently touch: Your desks, the doorknobs, railings, buttons, credit cards, and several other surfaces that are regularly touched by others and used by you, need to be kept clean. Sanitize these surfaces or use a tissue or wear a glove to touch them to prevent contact with the virus.
- Age restrictions on movement: The Government of India also recommends that people above the age of 65 and children below the age of 10 do not leave their house. And avoid contact with possible carriers as much as possible.
- Follow the latest news and stay updated: make sure that you are aware of all the latest developments in your city and country in this case. At the end of this blog, we will add all the important links and phone numbers for emergencies and more information.
Don’ts of the Coronavirus Epidemic
As important as knowing what to do, is knowing what not to do:
- Do Not shake hands: We Indians are blessed with a wonderful, non-contact greeting, the ‘Namaste’. Let’s make use of that and greet people with our words and hands folded, rather than shaking hands.
- Do Not touch your face: Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes. If you can’t avoid an urge to scratch, wash your hands thoroughly before doing so.
- Do Not spread information from unverified sources: Get your information only from trusted sources, all of which have been mentioned at the end of this blog. Avoid forwarding messages that you receive on WhatsApp or Facebook or other social media unless you can verify that the source is dependable.
- Do Not spread rumors: As important as not spreading unsourced information is not spreading rumors. This is a time when we need to be by each other’s side. Let’s be each other’s guardian angel and not their worst enemy.
Now is the time for us to become proactive. Panicking will serve no purpose, but neither will be sitting back and not doing anything. For the first time, the fate of everyone around us is in our hands. You might not get infected yourself, but if you don’t wash your hands, on time, you might be the carrier between your boss and someone’s grandmother. Only in 2% of the cases is a Coronavirus infection fatal. Mostly these are people with pre-existing conditions or older citizens. Therefore, it is a must that all of us stand together and help prevent the spread of this disease.