Coronavirus Pep Talk!

It’s hard to strike the balance between freaking out and under-reacting. It may help to remember a few things: Credit: Jake Fawcett Seattle Public Health
1. Public Health and your personal health are not the same thing. The health of individuals and the health of the population are connected, obviously, but the focus matters. The response to coronavirus (covid-19) in King County is a public health response. The goal is to protect the community as a whole. Your role as an individual is to do your small part to cooperate in the larger project, for the good of the whole community. Think of it as part of your civic duty. A war effort without the war.
2. As an individual, you don’t have to be any more scared of this new virus than you were of the viruses you already knew about. If your immune system is not compromised, if you do not have a health condition that puts you at risk, if you are not part of a particularly vulnerable group, then you are probably going to be fine. If, on the other hand, you are already at greater than average risk from something like the flu, then this virus is probably also more dangerous for you.
3. If you are individually at risk, the recommendations for you – stay home; avoid large gatherings; vigilant handwashing – are to protect yourself from getting sick.
4. For the rest of us who are not worried about getting sick: your individual risk of getting sick is not the point. The point of “social distancing” (work from home if you can; stay off public transit, especially at busy times; don’t hold large gatherings) is to slow down the rate of transmission of the virus in the general public. We know the covid-19 virus is circulating in Washington State. We can assume lots of people have been and will be exposed to it. Every time you get on a bus or go to a meeting, you increase the odds that the virus gets passed from one person to another. Again: it’s not about preventing you from getting sick. It is about giving covid-19 fewer opportunities to multiply.
5. So, if this virus is already out there, and most people who get it have mild symptoms, why does it matter if it spreads slowly or quickly? For one thing, if fewer people get sick then fewer people will get dangerously sick, and then even fewer people will die. Second, slowing it down buys time, and time really matters, especially at this early point in this outbreak. Remember that this virus is brand new in humans. There is no vaccine. There is no treatment. There is no natural immunity in anybody in the population. There is still a lot we don’t know about exactly how it moves and what it does. Buying time means delaying a massive outbreak until we are closer to having effective treatment and closer to having a vaccine. Buying time means avoiding massive stress on the health care system that could affect many more people with all kinds of health needs. Buying time might mean that some natural immunity builds up – people who have been exposed this year might be less vulnerable next year.
6. For most of us, this is serious, but not dangerous. Your role is critical because protecting public health is a group effort that takes massive cooperation. The way you think about this and talk to others about it can either encourage or discourage cooperation. Please try to encourage each other. Find a source of information you can trust. Ask questions. Listen to science. Use common sense and compassion. Don’t let fear make you cynical. Don’t let cynicism numb your sense of responsibility to other people. Stay connected, just not too close. Hang in there. Wash your hands.”