Some coronavirus advice for my friends:
1. The virus spreads asymptomatically. This means that you may be a carrier already, and spreading the virus unknowingly. To contain its exponential growth, please minimize large gatherings, travel, handshakes, and touching your face.
2. The main reasons the global numbers are low, especially in China, are science, detection, recognition, testing, preparedness, and draconian measures. Without them, we’d be looking at millions of deaths in China alone in a very short time.
3. Don’t laugh off the virus: (a) its spreading rate is way worse than the flu; (b) its mortality is way worse than the flu; (c) our innate immunity to it is way worse than to the flu; (d) there are no vaccines for it, unlike the flu; (e) its asymptomatic spread means we cannot contain it by asking people to stay home. Tiny differences in exponents can turn 10,000 deaths into 50 million deaths, so don’t underestimate them.
4. Don’t wear a face mask. It accumulates germs that you will then spread to your face, your home, and your loved ones, when you eventually take the mask off. If you’re sick, and *need* to go outside, yes, wear a medical mask to protect others. But if you’re not sick, these masks will make you sick, and will be dearly missed by hospitals and healthcare workers nearby. So please don’t hoard them.
5. If you’re actually sick with only moderate flu symptoms, stay at home instead of going to the hospital, to leave room for more severe cases. It’s probably the flu, but even if it’s coronavirus, there’s no cure, no vaccine, no treatment, and nothing the hospital can do for moderate cases. So save the beds for those that need oxygen and respirators.
6. Treat every surface as infected. Wash your hands often. Minimize touching your face. Replace handshakes with elbow bumps. Treat your phone as constantly infected, wipe it with disinfecting wipes, and keep it out of your bed. Push doors open with your legs, pull doors open with a wipe, dedicated object, or the back of your hand. Smother your kiddos with kisses (you share all your germs anyway) but keep outside germs outside. Some of these things will become natural, and maybe next year’s flu won’t be as severe with better hygiene.
7. If we’re paranoid, we can minimize its exponential growth to a lower exponent, giving our healthcare system a chance to cope with a slower rate of severe cases. Yes, you’re healthy, and you won’t get sick. Yes, maybe everyone you know will eventually be exposed to the virus. But it’s all about the rate of infections. If we slow down that rate, our hospitals will not be overwhelmed, and mortality will be kept way lower than otherwise.
8. Eventually, warm weather will hopefully help slow the spread of viral particles, with more air circulation, more time spent outdoors, more sunlight and UV exposure that denature the virus. Hopefully, by the next coronavirus ‘season’, we will have more innate immunity, perhaps a vaccine, and it will eventually be just another ‘flu shot’. But the next few weeks are crucial, so treat it like a pandemic, to avoid actually living one.
9. Spending time with your family is awesome. I’ve cancelled 4 events this week alone (my birthday party, a joint lab retreat with five other labs, a talk at the Greek Consulate, and a conference in Europe). I have no regrets, i get to spend more time with my students, my family, our close friends, learning, posting (this), and working on important papers and grants. A self-imposed travel ban is actually pretty awesome, and re-focuses attention on the important things.
10. Most of all, support basic science, trust the advice of experts, and appreciate the awesome advances of medical science and detection. We’d be looking at tens of millions of deaths without it, with all of us wondering why the gods are so angry. (we can still wonder that, but at least do something about it).
Conclusion: Don’t panic, but don’t underestimate this either. Act rationally, minimize the spread to protect others, enjoy time with your loved ones, and act as if it’s a pandemic, so it doesn’t become one.