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Learning about staying safe from COVID-19

Daily life in the West has finally been undeniably, indefinitely disrupted by the current COVID-19 strain of Coronavirus. It’s important to take precautions, but the situation isn’t so dire yet that we can’t learn a little more about what & why. Here is the more useful information that I’ve come across so far.

Understanding the severity of the current situation

Michael Osterholm describes himself as an “infectious disease hunter”, and has been researching infection diseases, defending against bioweapons, and predicting where & how the next pandemic will occur. When he did an interview with Joe Rogan 5 days ago, he provided sobering details. On the same day, I was told to work from home for the next month. Hearing this interview helped me learn more and readjust my expectations for how long this will take. Others were less concerned 5 days ago, but as predicted, as people learn more, they will catch up in level of concern.

From this clip:

  • Why we shouldn’t overreact & under-react
  • The situation is just beginning, and this could last for months, not days & weeks (“people think it’s a Coronavirus blizzard, it’s not, it’s a Coronavirus winter”)
  • A lot of the hoarding & usage of face masks is unnecessary
  • Why this strain (COVID-19) of Coronavirus is very infectious and more dangerous (than the flu & than SARS)
  • Who is at risk for severe problems (older, chronic heart & lung problems, obesity)
  • Why social distancing, etc. being done by everyone matter in our collective ability to manage the impact of the disease against the limited capacity of our health system
  • Why closing schools may not be helpful overall & how we have to be thoughtful in our choices & how the lack of vacation and sick leave, etc. complicate things
  • This blog post full of detailed numbers & graphs & comparisons shows
    • Why the math shows that the US is much more at risk than the general public believed at the time of writing (last week)
    • Why the US is only 10 days behind experiencing what is happening in Italy
    • Why what is happening in Italy is serious

Why washing hands with soap and water works

  • This twitter thread does a nice job explaining
    • Why soap & water is better than hand sanitizer
    • Why soap & water works
    • If you have to use hand sanitizers, use 70%+ alcohol content
    • Why touching your face is discouraged
    • Why staying far apart face-to-face helps

Why we should not over-rely on masks and hand sanitizer

  • More important than hand washing is staying from people
  • Why the average “surgical mask” doesn’t help preventing getting sick
  • Actual N95 masks are needed by health care workers & people who are sick
  • Why we need to reserve N95 masks only for health care workers & people who are sick

Why social distancing works

  • The math behind social distancing, told through animations

Dispelling myths about COVID-19 by comparing to similar diseases

  • Will not subside in summer like Spanish Flu (spreading in hot areas; MERS is a recent Coronavirus that spread in a hot climate)
  • Unlike SARS, COVID-19 is highly infectious for days before symptoms appear (SARS took 6-7 days after showing symptoms before becoming infectious)
  • Why this pandemic will last for months, not weeks, whether we like it or not
  • How COVID-19 is spread
    • Spreads more through moisture droplets in close proximity (breathing, coughing, sneezing)
    • Human breathing, coughing, sneezing can travel far, so stay away up to 6-10 ft. from people
    • Spreads through physical contacting (touching people, surfaces)
    • Frequently recycled air? (cruise ships)
  • How COVID-19 is not spread
    • Does not hang in the air (“airborne disease”). Measles hung in the air for hours

Why are certain places hotbeds for diseases like Coronavirus?

  • Wild animals in China are now farm raised for meat consumption and are artificially kept together in close quarters (“wet markets”)
  • Those types of animals are known to spread diseases better than other types
  • This problem isn’t just limited to China
  • Eating “bushmeat” (bats and all sorts of animals) in Africa is important to the diets there but also led to Ebola
  • Which are the types of “exotic” animals have “given” diseases to humans

How we know Coronavirus is not intentional / a bioweapon

  • Michael Osterhelm has lots of contacts over the years from everywhere in civilian/medical and biodefense areas, and has no information whatsoever indicating it
  • Even if humans wanted to, we could never come up with something like this. We don’t have the skills or precision, while Mother Nature does a much better job than we ever could

Why vaccination is so important for yourself and everyone else

  • Vaccines are a huge advancement for the human race in our ability to live healthily without fear of debilitating disease
  • Vaccines are important for yourself and for your community
  • Thoughts to the contrary are not just baseless but dangerous

Why it will take years for a Coronavirus vaccine

Why the US wasn’t better prepared for Coronavirus

  • Intentionally false statements put out by the top leaders in the federal government during the early stages, which confused, slowed, or reversed preparations by citizens
  • A lack of preparation and leadership, when response time is critical in pandemics, due to their clear politicization of the issue

Practical tips at the individual level

  • NPR: https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816404689/spiking-demand-for-sanitizer-canned-goods-leaves-stores-struggling-to-keep-up
    • Only take what you need from the store
    • Strike a balance between bulk shopping (minimize trips to store) with taking too much (and depriving others the chance to get what they need)
  • Italy still kept grocery stores and drug stores open, despite the country wide lockdown for everything else
    • Don’t hoard hand sanitizer (only need outside home, soap & water still better)
    • Don’t hoard toilet paper
  • Still minimize your exposure
    • Besides grocery stores (and drug stores), you don’t need to go anywhere else where there are people
    • Minimize number / frequency of trips (see above on balance — bulk vs. hoard)
    • Better to avoid trips to store than to go to store frequently wearing a mask
  • Groceries strategies
    • Avoid temptation to stock up until you need to (starting to running low)
      • Like refueling your car with gas, you don’t do it with 3/4 tank full
    • Make a list so that you can buy all the things you need in the right amount
    • Aim to go once every 1-2 weeks, maybe even less often
    • Go to grocery store on a weekday, early in the morning
      • Opposite of typical busy times during evenings & weekends
    • Be willing to play Iron Chef with cooking if they don’t have what you want
      • Ex: if rice is sold out, use millet instead (and it’s much healthier)
      • Ingredients for simple veg South Indian work well (cheap, shelf life, healthy)
  • Stay healthy to improve your immune response
    • Physical health: eat healthy, exercise, get full sleep, regular schedule
    • Mental health: tune out news (you know all that you need to know), stick to Netflix, stay in touch with friends & family, exercise, plan to do less & prioritize
  • NPR: Coronavirus Symptoms: Defining Mild, Moderate And Severe
    • Mild: mild fever; last 1-2 days; most people get it
    • Moderate: range of breathing problems, feels like you can’t get out of bed; lasts 2 weeks; secondary infections of pneumonia possible; can require hospitalization if symptoms of dehydration or inability to breathe occur
    • Severe: inability to breathe, drop in blood pressure, severe pneumonia symptoms; 14% of infected people become severe

Practical policies at the leadership level

  • Universal health care
  • Very decisive strong measures + testing/tracing/monitoring

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