Coronavirus: 7 Facts, 8 Lies, and 4 Ways to Keep Your Cool
Wherever you live, you can’t avoid hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tealfeed Guest Blog
“ The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus
Wherever you live, you can’t avoid hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are new developments every day, several times a day. Even if you try to stop watching the news, the people around you will want to discuss the coronavirus. We’re all looking for the best ways to navigate the situation — and frankly, it’s exhausting.
With all the misinformation out there, it can be hard to keep track of what the truth is. It’s tempting to stop caring altogether. But instead of succumbing to apathy or despair, take a moment to look at the basics and then let’s talk about how to cope with this strange new challenge.
Just the Facts
The coronavirus outbreak started in the city of Wuhan in central China, and it was first reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019.
It has since spread all around the world. Everyone’s working on slowing it down, but the virus is impossible to stop completely.
FACT #1: Yes, it’s officially a pandemic.
As of March 11, 2020, the WHO released a statement (World Health Organization 2020) announcing that COVID-19 is a pandemic. The Director-General’s words were sober but hopeful:
“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.”
Here’s a quick explanation of what pandemics are.
FACT #2: There’s a lot we don’t know about the virus yet.
Part of what makes this pandemic so stressful is the uncertainty.
At this point:
- There is no cure yet.
- There is no vaccination either but trials are underway.
- We don’t know if the disease will slow down in the summer months.
- It’s not clear how it interacts with other diseases or why some people are more impacted by others.
- We don’t know how many people have the disease with mild symptoms. This means that most statistics on the coronavirus are just estimates for now.
- We can’t guess how the disease will change over time.
The worldwide medical community is trying to find answers to these questions. It is a race against the clock right now — the more we know about COVID-19, the fewer people will die from it. The good news is that new insights are being discovered every day.
FACT #3: The main symptoms are coughing, shortness of breath, and a fever.
It can also come with a runny nose and a sore throat.
In its more serious stages, the coronavirus can cause pneumonia. But when it first manifests, it is hard to distinguish it from having a cold or even seasonal allergies. For most people, the effects of this disease are comparable to the flu.
What do you do if you start exhibiting symptoms? The answer depends on where you live. It is generally best to phone a medical care provider as soon as you notice symptoms. They may tell you to stay at home and monitor your health progress, or you’ll be asked to come in and get tested.
If you think you may be infected, you should avoid all contact with people, especially those whose health is fragile in some way.
And good respiratory hygiene is crucial even if you don’t think you’re sick. This means you should always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. After using a tissue, dispose of it immediately.
FACT #4: The virus can impact people of any age, but kids are fairly safe.
Experience shows that children are relatively unlikely to contract the virus (McKie 2020). When they do contract an infection, kids generally experience a very mild form of the disease.
Another piece of good news: newborn babies aren’t necessarily at risk even if their mother has the disease (Chen et al. 2010). There was one UK case where a baby was born with COVID-19, but it’s not clear yet whether the illness was passed on through the womb or during birth.
If you’re pregnant now, there are some extra precautions you can take — mainly, you should make sure to talk to your prenatal healthcare providers.
FACT #5: There’s A LOT you can do to avoid getting infected.
Here are the ways you can decrease your chances of contracting the virus, according to the WHO, as well as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other trustworthy sources.
- Always wash your hands.
Soap and water are enough to kill the coronavirus, but you can also use alcohol-based cleansers with at least 70% alcohol.
Before you get the chance to wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, eyes, or nose. Make sure to spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands before you touch your face.
This is the most widely mentioned piece of advice for good reason — it is the single best way to avoid getting infected and also to avoid passing on the virus if you are already sick.
2. Use disinfectant on items that are frequently used.
Since the virus can spread through infected surfaces too, you should wipe items down before use. This includes:
- taps and faucets
- toilet seats
- tables and desks
- light switches or elevator buttons
Regular household disinfectants will do the job. In public, you can use an alcoholic rub (with 70% or higher alcohol content).
3. Don’t shake hands when you meet someone.
Since direct physical contact when greeting people is currently risky, stick to nodding or waving.
The virus can be transmitted through a handshake, if you happen to touch your face after shaking hands. Similarly, it’s best to avoid hugs or kissing people on the cheek.
4. Don’t walk too close to people.
If you maintain a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) from other people, you can stay fairly safe. Remember, this virus is transmitted through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.
5. Practice extra precautions in the kitchen.
Be careful when handling meat or milk, and make sure everything is well-cooked before you consume animal products.
Also, you should be careful with the tools you use in the kitchen. Don’t use the same knives (and chopping board) for raw meat and for cooked meat. Wash everything thoroughly, and don’t touch your face while preparing food.
Furthermore, you should avoid live animal markets. If you have to attend places with live farm animals, try to keep your contact with them to a minimum. Wash your hands often.
FACT #6: Staying indoors is the best way to protect yourself and others.
Depending on where you live, you might already be in quarantine. If that’s not the case, you might want to stay home anyway.
Limiting your exposure to other people will slow the spread of the virus. If it’s an option, switch the working from home. Cancel parties, meetups, shopping trips, playdates, etc. for the time being.
Remember that the virus can be spread even by people who don’t show any symptoms. This is part of what makes it so unpredictable. Even if nobody around you is coughing, you may be in contact with someone who is infected.
FACT #7: Traveling right now is complicated.
If you can, avoid flying internationally. To control the spread of the virus, it is better to postpone any kind of travel.
It’s important to realize that countries are closing their borders without much warning. Travelers may get quarantined without question, and some people are getting stranded abroad.
But there are some ways to stay relatively safe while flying if you can’t avoid it:
● Avoid touching reusable items like pillows and blankets.
● Ask for hand sanitizer, use wet wipes.
● Avoid touching your face.
● Choosing a window seat decreases your chances of sitting next to someone with an infection.
● Obviously: try to avoid contact with anyone who has a cough.
Even in difficult situations, it’s possible to decrease your chances of contracting the coronavirus — you just need to be careful.
Lies, Damned Lies, and (Just a Few) Statistics
Now, let’s look at some of the extreme and unfounded views you may encounter when talking about this disease.
LIE #1: COVID-19 is a death sentence.
At the moment, the death rate is estimated to be around 3.4% (Worldometer 2020). These numbers are uncertain because there could be coronavirus carriers who are never diagnosed. The rate is much higher for the elderly — for those above the age of eighty, the mortality rate is almost 20%.
This is definitely bad news, and it is higher than the mortality rate of the flu. At the same time, most people survive contracting the coronavirus.
In cases of infection, there is a lot that can be done. Hospitals can help people with severe symptoms — they may be able to lower the immune response or aid breathing with the use of respirators.
So it’s important to stay vigilant. If you’ve been infected or have noticed the symptoms in people close to you, keep calm and ask for medical help.
LIE #2: COVID-19 is nothing to worry about.
Maybe you looked at the numbers and you like your odds. But that doesn’t mean you should be reckless with your own health or other people’s.
For one thing, being sick with this disease is unpleasant even when you avoid the worst symptoms. It comes with a great deal of dry coughing and fever. We also don’t know what the long-term effects may be after recovery. There’s a chance it could damage the lungs permanently (Bostock 2020).
For another thing, nobody wants to be responsible for endangering others. People with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure — they are all extra vulnerable to the disease. You can’t tell at first glance whether someone is a high-risk individual, so it’s best to stay away from everyone but the people you live with.
LIE #3: It’s best if we all contract it right now and get it over with.
This option is tempting, especially if you’re getting tired of feeling afraid. You may think that, since the virus will spread anyway, it’s easier if everyone gets it at once.
This is a dangerous line of thinking. Lives will be saved if we can flatten the curve of the infection — this means that it’s best to delay the spread as much as possible.
If too many people are sick all at once, the healthcare system in your area will get overloaded. This means a shortage of supplies and medical staff. It also increases the chances of doctors and nurses getting infected, which has disastrous consequences.
So, when too many people are infected all at once, they can’t get adequate medical care. If the same number of people get infected over a longer period of time, they are likelier to get good care and avoid fatal outcomes.
Plus, don’t forget that the scientific world is working on a cure or vaccine. So if you delay the infection, you are improving your chances.
LIE #4: Using a face mask is the only way to avoid getting infected. OR: Having a mask will keep you 100% safe.
Face masks have been a controversial topic since the general public first heard of the coronavirus.
Depending on where you live, you may be advised to wear these masks when you leave the house. But in many places, authorities still recommend avoiding masks.
Here’s what you need to know.
1 — There are different kinds of masks you can use.
Surgical masks are basically a piece of cloth you place over your mouth and nose. They’re generally for one use only — it’s important to read the instructions and only buy them from a reputable source. Some harmful particles may get caught on the mask before reaching your respiratory system.
N95 masks provide much better results. These are round, tightly fitting masks with strong straps, and they’re usually only used by medical personnel. The issue here is that they’re very difficult to put on properly — in fact, the people who wear them as part of their job need to go through training on how to use them. It’s also hard (or impossible) to wear them for long stretches of time, and these masks are very uncomfortable.
2 — Wearing masks may encourage unsafe behavior.
Using any kind of mask is no guarantee of safety. It’s crucial to place them on your face properly, covering the mouth and nose.
But it’s equally important to be careful during mask removal. If any harmful particles got caught on the surface, it’s all too easy to transfer them to your mouth when taking the mask off.
Responsible hand-washing is crucial if you want to use masks. Additionally, it’s unsafe to use disposable masks more than once.
3 — The WHO says it’s best to leave the masks to those who are taking care of sick people.
If you are taking care of someone with COVID-19, a mask can make a real difference for you. The sick person might cough over you, and in this case, the protection offered by a mask (even a surgical mask) makes a real difference.
But if you’re not a caretaker, the main danger you have to worry about is unwashed hands. A mask won’t make much of a difference if you’re practicing social distancing anyway, as infected droplets won’t reach your face if you’re being careful.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. If you decide to buy some masks, do additional research first, so that you don’t waste the masks by using them irresponsibly.
LIE #5: Home remedies will protect you from COVID-19.
Here’s a short list of things that will NOT keep you safe from the coronavirus:
1. Drinking water — obviously, staying hydrated is good for you in general, but it won’t ‘dilute the virus’ and it can’t replace good hygiene
4. Steamy hot baths
5. Being exposed to very cold temperatures
6. Gargling with alcohol/steroids/bleach (please don’t gargle with bleach)
It’s also not helpful to take antibiotics. This is a virus, not a bacterium, so antibiotics can’t help with it.
LIE #6: There’s a cool new remedy that will keep you safe.
Disappointingly, there are frauds out there who want to profit from this pandemic.
They might try to sell you ‘miracle minerals’ or silver solutions — and this is probably just the beginning. Expect to see more fake cures and misleading advertisements.
When experts find a cure, you’ll definitely know about it because every respectable news agency will report on it immediately. Until then, practice healthy skepticism.
LIE #7: Some ethnic groups are more susceptible to the virus than others.
Even more disappointingly, some people have responded to COVID-19 with racist, xenophobic or generally bigoted views.
It’s true that the disease is more widespread in some countries than in others. This is down to differences in the state of public health, top-down decision-making and infrastructure — and of course, it’s also impacted by bad luck. It’s also true that people who’ve recently traveled internationally may need to be quarantined.
None of this means that you should be suspicious of people in your own community. Remain kind and calm, don’t let this outbreak create unnecessary divisions in your neighborhood or workplace.
LIE #8: This outbreak was planned in advance.
Conspiracy theories mostly come from misunderstandings, fear, and exaggeration. There’s plenty of that going around these days. If you’re in need of some entertainment, check out the wiki article on coronavirus conspiracy theories.
Various political groups, countries, and individuals have been blamed for the outbreak. None of this has any basis in reality.
Sometimes, these theories build on a person’s existing prejudices. Other times, they’re pure fiction, invented just to mess with the scared public. For example, some people genuinely believed a joke theory that blamed an American comedian for the spread of the virus (FactCheck 2020).
But one persistent myth comes from a misunderstanding of the name of the virus.
A few people found mentions of the word ‘coronavirus’ from years before the outbreak, then believed that to be proof that the virus isn’t new.
It’s important to realize that the phrase ‘coronavirus’ refers to a huge family of viruses, which also includes SARS and MERS, viruses that cause dangerous diseases that got a lot of attention in the past. Coronaviruses have always been discussed in the medical community, the word just wasn’t widely noticed by the public.
This particular coronavirus is really called the novel coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV (the phrase COVID-19 refers to the disease). It is a new type of virus that belongs to the coronavirus family.
PROBABLY NOT TRUE: You can get the coronavirus from your cat or dog.
For the time being, we’re not sure if the disease can spread from cats and dogs to humans. But there have been no cases of it happening, and scientists agree that it seems unlikely.
There’s some confusion about this, considering that canine coronavirus and feline coronavirus both exist. You might have heard of these diseases before this outbreak happened.
Canine and feline coronaviruses have been around for a long time and they aren’t dangerous to humans. This is a different kind of virus than the one we’re dealing with now.
All that said, it is best to stay extra careful when handling pets. Some infections, especially bacterial ones, can spread from pets to humans. This could lower our immune response, making us more vulnerable to other diseases.
PROBABLY NOT TRUE: You can get infected if you mail-order a package from an area with a high infection rate.
The coronavirus can survive outside of the body for a while. This is why it’s crucial to wash our hands after touching doorknobs, and it’s also recommended to wipe down the surfaces we come in contact with.
However, science says that the virus can’t stay alive outside of the body for long. You can read about some preliminary findings on this topic — it’s pretty interesting to see how the virus reacts to various surfaces.
Doctors generally agree that by the time you receive a letter or package through international delivery, the virus will die. There have been no cases of anyone getting infected through the post.
If you’re still worried, disinfect anything before use. Washing your hands is the best way to protect yourself from anything that seems risky.
Learning about the facts and lies is a good first step. But even when you’re well-informed, this pandemic will likely leave its mark on your mood. We all feel rattled, worried, and loneliness is rising as people are starting to self-isolate.
But this isn’t the time to panic or give up. Here are a few ways you can make sure you stay calm and look for the silver lining.
1. Realize you’re not helpless.
Unlike many other of the problems we keep hearing about, the COVID-19 isn’t an abstract threat. Everything we do has a real, immediate impact on the spread of this coronavirus.
This might not seem like great news. In fact, it may make you nervous.
However, take a moment to compare this outbreak to climate change or disappointing/scary political situations. Those are also threats that can have a real impact on our lives. But if you’re an ordinary person rather than a policymaker, your impact there is fairly limited.
Being eco-conscious is still important, but it won’t have immediate, measurable results. If you are politically active, any positive change you create will be incremental and slow.
But in the case of the coronavirus? You can do a great deal to protect yourself, your family, and your community.
- Self-isolating can slow the spread of the COVID-19 in your area.
- If you’re a low-risk individual, you can help people who are extra vulnerable right now. Perhaps you can run errands for them (while making sure to wash your hands and take other safety precautions) or help them create a plan for emergencies.
- By staying in contact with loved ones via the internet, you can help them avoid loneliness or panic.
- You can spread positive and fact-based messages online, and shut down any fearmongering.
- This is a good time to donate to food banks and local non-profits. There’s also the WHO Relief Fund, which provides supplies and relief for healthcare workers and it also supports new research efforts.
If you make an effort to stand up to this virus, you will definitely feel better about it.
2. Stay connected — but do it carefully.
There’s another way this pandemic is unprecedented. The world has never been more connected, and that means that people in quarantine or self-isolation can easily keep talking to their loved ones online. This is crucial in beating back the emotional impact of the disease.
At the same time, it is very hard to ignore all the information we keep receiving online, and that carries some significant risks. We may find our worldview skewed by the things we see on the internet, which is extra dangerous during a time when clarity can save lives.
So what are the best ways to use tech for good?
- Use video calls and phone calls instead of just emails and chat.
If you’re feeling isolated and scared, seeing another person will help a great deal. Set up Skype, Facetime, etc. — keeping in touch with people in this way will help you ward off cabin fever.
You should keep in mind the needs of people who are less tech-savvy (for example, older relatives). Help them set up apps they can use without needing to get used to text-based communication.
- Disconnect when you need to.
Sometimes, there’s just too much information to handle.
If you’re fed up, consider going on a mini-detox. Set aside a few hours or even a full day of not using your phone or computer.
It’s a good idea to set a timer when you do this. After all, you shouldn’t become a complete hermit — the goal is to gain control over the way you interact with online media and social media. If you think you may be getting addicted to COVID-19 news, regular internet detoxes could be just what you need.
- There’s some great info on social media — but always check the sources.
You don’t want to accidentally spread misinformation right now.
At the same time, fact-checking can be exhausting and time-consuming. If you’re not sure about the veracity of something you see, the best thing to do may be to scroll past it.
- If you’ve got to choose, it’s better to focus on the local news.
Staying informed about the coronavirus is important, but our time is a limited resource.
If you can’t decide where to get your information, it might be best to prioritize trustworthy resources from your city (and then your state and country). This is where you’ll hear about the rules that apply to you, and you can make sure you’re not breaking any curfews or general quarantine. Plus, the local news will help you find ways to help your immediate community.
3. Be patient with your loved ones.
It’s important to realize that everyone’s emotions are impacted by this pandemic. This includes young children, for example — even if they don’t understand exactly what is happening, they will respond to the stress of the situation.
If you have kids, you need to talk to them about the coronavirus.
Find some simple, age-appropriate ways to explain the basics. Don’t lie to them! It’s important to create an open dialogue, so they can ask about any fears they may have.
At the same time, it can be a good idea to limit their exposure to the news. In the case of school-aged kids and teens, make sure to discuss the way social media may mislead them.
Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who need help at this time. The same approach works with other people you care about.
You may discover that some friends or family members aren’t handling the situation too well. In particular, older adults might feel anxious, annoyed, or resentful. They may be hooked on the news, which isn’t good for anyone’s mental health.
Some people aren’t very skilled at telling facts from fiction, and you can help them learn the basics. But it’s equally important to just listen.
When dealing with a stressful situation like this one, compassion can work miracles. Let people share their feelings with you, and give them the gift of your time and attention.
4. Be extra patient with yourself.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, many people have had to change their daily routines. This can be hard to get used to even if you’re not especially worried about anyone’s health.
Maybe you’re working from home for the first time because of the disease. If that’s the case, you may be feeling isolated. Unfortunately, some of the usual advice won’t work now — for instance, you probably shouldn’t work from a café at the moment.
But there’s still plenty you can do to look out for your emotional wellbeing. Here are a few suggestions.
- Make time for your mental health.
Your mental health may be adversely affected by the stress and also by being cooped up at home. And even if you’re not feeling any serious effects yet, you may find yourself sinking into a bad mood or becoming snappish.
Here are some resources from Mental Health America, as well as Mental Health Europe and the World Health Organization — there are some great tips there.
It’s crucial to make time for yourself. Spend time doing things you enjoy, be it reading, cooking, or catching up with your favorite shows. Finding moments of joy is more important than ever.
Meditation and journaling can also help you remain calm and positive.
At the same time, it’s a good idea to reach out and talk to people. A good video conversation with a friend will boost your mood and remind you to keep taking care of yourself. Some people have met at regular hours to share a virtual beer online.
Therapy is still an option too — many therapists are willing to work with clients online, so you won’t have to leave your home to keep an appointment.
- Pay attention to your physical health.
Taking care of your body may be more difficult right now too. If people in your area are panic buying, you’ll find it harder to buy fresh groceries, so health-conscious cooking becomes more complicated.
With some gyms and swimming pools shutting down for the time being, you may need to change your workout routine. Even if they’re still open, you might want to avoid gyms for a while (Ortiz 2020).
But there are various ways you can exercise at home, which will both help pass the time and keep you in shape.
Make sure to maintain good hygiene even if you’re not leaving the house — you’ll feel better both physically and mentally after a nice shower.
Getting enough high-quality sleep is crucial too. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule — resist the temptation of frequent, shallow naps. White noise apps or meditation apps could be a useful tool if anxiety is keeping you up.
- Don’t ignore your feelings.
Are you disappointed because you wanted to attend an event that got canceled? Are you getting fed up with your loved ones depending on you to stay calm? Are you painfully, mind-numbingly bored?
These are some of the feelings people don’t like to admit to. They may feel ashamed of being petty or caring about the little things in a time of crisis.
But if you try to repress your feelings, you will start acting rashly or lashing out at people, so mindfulness is more important than ever. Write down your feelings, or talk about them with a friend (or even a stranger).
And always remember: You don’t control what happens, you control how you respond.
This article was originally published by Eric sangerma on medium.
Tealfeed Guest Blog