COVID-19 photo by the Food and Drug Administration

CITIZEN INK: Personal responsibility key to mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus

Limiting the impact of COVID-19 is something each of us needs to take seriously to slow its expanse

by Katherine Wagner/Special to The News

Last week, I drove to Washington State for a writer’s retreat in Olympic National Park.

The border did not have even a one car wait, south or northbound, which was surreal.

The ferry from Edmunds to Kingston was three-quarters full, but I only saw five other passengers up on deck.

On the way home, I opted to drive through Tacoma-Seattle because traffic was light.

Members of the small gathering were careful.

No one shook hands, opting instead for silly greetings that didn’t involve bodily contact. One person had a cough and largely stayed in their cabin.

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In a small way, these observations were oddly reassuring – people were taking care to minimize contact in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, on the way home I witnessed an example of how difficult – if not impossible – it is to contain a virus.

We had stopped for lunch at a restaurant just off the highway – between Aberdeen and Olympia.

Two older men came in after us and sat on the other side of the restaurant. Their voices carried.

Their conversation made it clear they knew about COVID-19, but it soon also became clear that they had not reached the point of taking personal responsibility.

One of the men coughed and hacked incessantly.

He told the other he’d woken up feeling poorly, but seemed oblivious to the fact he was spreading germs in a public place.

They were served by a waitress who appeared to be in her 60s and when she leaned across the table to set down their order, the man coughed all over her.

I am hoping – and at that point it was still more likely – that the man only passed on a common cold virus, rather than the one which causes COVID-19. But, of course, there’s no certainty.

What he obviously didn’t understand and/or care about was that we are still in the critical time-period when limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 remains possible.

The deluge of information around COVID-19 has been a challenge to the math and statistics skills of the general public.

The most common mistake I’ve noticed is a simplistic comparison of overall deaths as a result of COVID-19 with other causes.

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This ignores context such as percentages of overall cases and the severity of illness for those who do not succumb.

There are many more variables involved in analyzing the data and it’s best to pay attention to the experts.

There is also blatantly self-serving misinformation being circulated. The most jaw-dropping and disturbing example was Donald Trump declaring the novel coronavirus a hoax, designed by his political opponents to hurt his re-election chances.

So far, I’m impressed with how both our B.C. and federal governments have responded to this global health issue.

The public can safely rely on four sources of information: B.C.’s public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam, The World Health Organization (WHO), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S.A. – in that order, in my opinion. They all provide daily updates.

The message right now if about mitigation and containment. Hopefully, what we do now will limit the spread of the virus and give our health care system a chance to respond.

Panic is never good, but neither is the opposite.

There are those who proclaim they are not in the slightest bit worried because they are young and healthy.

I suspect this might be, in part, a way of coping with the stress, but regardless of personal risk we all need to be concerned about our health systems, supply chains, and economy.

They could easily be overwhelmed by a large increase in severely ill patients.

Limiting the impact of COVID-19 is something we all need to take seriously, and taking personal responsibility is key to slowing the spread.

Even those who normally shun listening to or reading the news need to pay attention.

Figure out which of your friends and family avoid the news and keep them informed on this issue.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow and step or turn away from other people first, if possible.

Don’t shake hands, keep your hands away from your face, and wash your hands frequently with soap (20 seconds is longer than most of us are used to lathering our hands, but it’s worth it).

Stay home when sick.

If you are sick, or suspect you have been exposed, check with your doctor or health authorities before showing up in a waiting room.

Try to avoid hoarding health care supplies and other essentials, but also have some empathy for those who panic and over-buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Self-preservation is a powerful instinct and extends to our loved ones. At the same time, hoarding with the intention of profiting during a crisis is vile.

Try to stay calm and make decisions based on facts and prudence, rather than fear and emotion.

Don’t buy into conspiracy theories or attempts to dismiss the situation and please don’t share social media posts without double-checking their accuracy.

Support each other.

In hindsight, I regret not saying something to the irresponsible coughing man in the restaurant. Those who ignore their responsibility should be challenged (nicely) to do better.

– Katherine Wagner is a member of the Citizens’ Task Force on Transparency, a former school trustee and member of Golden Ears Writers


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