Catholic Churches have stopped sharing communion wine and replaced the handshake/sign of piece with a nod. Local colleges have cancelled spring break trips and all school sponsored travel abroad. Some public schools have asked students, faculty and staff to refrain from handshakes and hugs. Hand sanitizer stations are popping up in schools, offices (our office building for example) and within offices.
A few people have said that all this is alarmist because the virus is no worse than the flu and risk of contraction is low. All but one of those who've dismissed the concerns were young adults. Older people are more cautious and younger people tend to deny vulnerability a bit more. The one older person who also dismissed the concern was someone who isn't very bright. That's not meant as a put down. It's just a fact.
I don't think we should be panicking about the virus but some of the arguments I've heard against taking simple precautions strike me as misinformed or fundamentally illogical.
A few points:
Because risk of contraction is low, some think that efforts to minimize risk of contraction and spreading the virus are foolish. Yes, risk is low, but the aim of precautions is to keep the risk low. It's not about present risk. It's about future risk.
Others say that the virus is no worse than the flu. Researchers are only beginning to determine the true risk of fatality. Clearly, it's low for young people, but over age 50 the risk of fatality rises considerably. A 21-year-old told me that no one his age is getting very sick, and I asked him how he'd feel if he gave his mild case of the virus to his grandmother, and it killed her. Point taken. An exception to youthful dismissal of the virus is occurring at Yeshiva University, where my best friend's kid is a student. Students there are taking the virus very seriously since one of the undergrads tested positive. Her dad is the Westchester attorney who's been in the news.
Anyway, early numbers found a 15% fatality rate among people over 80 who contracted the virus. Those numbers may be skewed because the worst cases are more likely to be diagnosed, but we shouldn't be casual about the risks of fatality to vulnerable populations until researchers have a clearer picture of the true risk of fatality.
So at the office, we're washing hands with soap and water, refraining from handshakes, we're wiping doorknobs and surfaces with disinfectant wipes, and we've got hand sanitizer in the waiting room and offices. We were ahead of the run on these products, so we had no problem getting them shipped by Amazon. When I checked again this week, just out of curiosity, I found that you can't even place an order for sanitizers with the supplier we purchased from.
Outside the office, we're avoiding unnecessary public exposure in higher risk areas, not simply to protect ourselves but to avoid unwittingly spreading the virus to others, especially to more vulnerable populations.
So, for now, no gym, no public transit, no flying and generally avoiding crowds. Also, if we show signs of illness we'll get it checked out by the doc and avoid work until we know we're in the clear.
These measures won't confer total protection but I think it's a good idea for everyone to try to mitigate risks of contracting and spreading the virus until we have a better look at how this pans out. No need to go into deep quarantine just yet, but it isn't a bad idea to be a little more public health minded until this thing gets sorted out