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What we must learn and remember during the COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 is in full speed. It seems as if it is everywhere. You hear that your neighbors are seriously ill, your relative or a friend in another city or state is in hospital. People in your neighborhood are dying. 

The daily death toll in the U.S. has surpassed 2,000. Projections show that the rate could double soon. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, America reported more than 200,000 cases in a single day bringing the total cases to 13 million. Some cities have issued stay-at-home orders. 

At the same time, COVID-19 information evolves at a record rate, so fast in fact, that it is often hard to keep pace with the latest advice. Even the medical experts, trying to keep themselves and their families safe, are becoming confused and making mistakes. 

While some people have already battled through COVID-19 and now feel able to offer advice, others are desperately waiting for test results, while many hope to be immunized sooner rather than later. At the same time we are now in a second wave of the virus, one which is causing the death toll to rise sharply. 

More than ever, there is now an urgent need to look at what the experts say, as opposed to relying upon often false and conflicting information from social media. We have some updates to include concerning our previous assumptions about COVID-19, ranging from how it spreads, hand sanitizer usage to herd immunity.

More specifically, there have been some common misconceptions about COVD-19 which everyone should be aware of and clear from their minds. Doing so will not only help ease our daily routine but also ensure that we are doing the right thing to keep ourselves and our communities safe until our lives can get back to normal. 

A 100% eradication may not be possible anytime soon. The effectiveness of vaccines on the pediatric population is still in question. The distribution of the vaccine is going to be just as challenging as the fight to create it, especially, experts say, from the supply-chain standpoint. “It’s going to be an extraordinary logistic challenge, I just hope it works,” says David Salisbury, the British government’s former director of immunization.

We are all together in this fight. It’s important to do our part responsibly while the vaccines are being developed and tested. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is all related to human behavior. So if we blame anyone for the second wave facing the world right now, it is us – we the humans. We can change the curve if we change our behavior. 

Now, let’s talk about some of the misconceptions we tend to have about COVID-19. While some of these seem minor, some involve serious mistakes — even in some of the most advanced countries like the United States.

Misconception 1: If I survive COVID-19 once, I am immune. 

First of all, this is simply an assumption. We don’t know that those who have had COVID-19 are  immune to the virus, and even if they are, we don’t know how long this immunity lasts. Although some studies show it may last for at least six months, the research is still in progress.

Misconception 2: If enough people get sick, we develop herd immunity, making the virus disappear. 

For the herd immunity to become a reality, more than 70 – 90% of the world population needs to be infected and we are nowhere near that. Just imagine the cost of the disaster if we try to achieve that. Too many people will be sick, too many will die,  and hospitals will be overrun.

“We saw what happened in New York, Italy and Iran. Look at Florida,” Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital said. “People died because there were not enough hospital beds, not enough ICUs, not enough doctors and nurses to care for people. To think we could get there (herd immunity) without a huge human disaster, possibly millions of lives, is just folly.”

Misconception 3: It must be safe out there. People look healthy, there is no sign of sickness in general.

Well, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 75% of the COVID-19 infections come from people who are not showing any symptoms. That is either because they have mild cases or they haven’t yet developed symptoms. As such, anyone at any time, unless they are properly socially distanced, could be spreading the virus. You could be asymptomatic yourself and unknowingly give it to others.

Misconception 4: There’s no point in wearing a mask

Another  assumption is that masks don’t help. Not wearing a mask is simply being bull-headed. It is not asking too much to wear a piece of cloth, unless you want someone you care about to end up in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). 

So, what have we learned?
There is one important area where the information has evolved, where we need to get our head straight now — which is to focus less on surface contact transmission. The primary route of transmission is not contact transmission. COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. 

“If people would focus more on masks and social distancing and less on sanitizing surfaces, we could get this surge of infections to die down quickly”, says Blumberg. 

What that means is that as long as you are not in close physical contact with an infected person, and as long as you sanitize your hands and make sure to moisturize regularly, you don’t have to worry much about cleaning surfaces. 

There are few other mistakes we need to realize. The most common of all is when hand sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces. You may have seen people apply it and try to shake their hands quickly or to air dry it. I would say don’t even bother hand sanitizing if you don’t have patience. It simply doesn’t work if you don’t give it enough time. Similarly, when disinfecting surfaces, it is advised that you allow a minimum of one minute to spray and wipe surfaces. Giving something a quick wipe is futile.

Also, we can safely use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. It doesn’t have to be 80% or above. The version of alcohol recommended is ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol. However, using hand sanitizer with methanol is harmful, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns. More than 100 sanitizers have been mislabeled as ethanol. FDA instructions tell us not to use the sanitizers from this list.

What we need to remember is that contact is not a primary source of transmission. If you infected yourself, it would have to be from touching your face – with or without gloves. In other words, even if your hands are infected, you are safe as long as you remember not to touch your face. That’s why nurses are asked to wash hands frequently and sanitize hands properly and frequently. 

“In my opinion, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze (within 1-2 hours),” writes Emanuel Goldman, PhD, a professor of microbiology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics at the New Jersey Medical School of Rutgers University.

As the world faces unprecedented times of pandemic, we have been bombarded by a significant amount of information which is almost impossible to keep up with. Often it is more misinformation than information – spread to cause confusion among the general public. 

COVID-19 affects everyone differently. Researchers don’t yet understand why people respond so differently to COVID-19. If you have not been taking it seriously and thinking that only older folks are the ones that get hospitalized, try talking to someone young who just went through it even if they didn’t go to the emergency room. And even if you recover from it within a couple of weeks, you must know that the virus has serious long-term effects.

In a nutshell, the key is to continue to prevent ourselves and our family members from being exposed to this deadly virus. This is the only way to play a role from individual levels in decreasing the deaths that have surged recently and in getting back to normal at least until everyone including the children are immunized. Apart from practicing good hygiene, we have better and fact-based information compared to when the virus first got into the U.S. All we need to do is follow those facts because we cannot reject scientific evidence.

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The author is one of the editorial team members in BNS.

 

 

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