Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses commonly transmitted among humans and animals, inducing illnesses ranging from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 2019’s novel outbreak of the disease, COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan, China and has since spread internationally. South Korea, Iran and Italy – alongside China – have been hit hardest by COVID-19, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing level 3 warnings recommending that Americans avoid nonessential travel to these countries. On Feb. 29 the first fatality from the virus in the United States was confirmed, and its proliferation nationwide appears imminent. With this in mind, I figured I’d provide a few key takeaways that we can apply to this situation and our daily lives.
First, we should be more cautious, conscientious travelers. Of course, we must remain wary of spreading and being afflicted with illnesses whenever we travel internationally or to another part of the country (and it’s also important to avoid stigmatizing certain groups of people in the process). But we’d be wise to apply this mindset to our routine travels and general hygienic patterns as well. Washing our hands thoroughly, covering our mouths whenever we cough or sneeze and avoiding close contact with other people whenever you or they show signs of sickness can help us combat COVID-19 and any other viral infections. Hopefully our heightened education and application of basic preventative health procedures proves to be a positive consequence of this predicament.
Another lesson we can learn here is to trust scientists as an authority on critical issues. As Vice President Mike Pence has been appointed to lead the charge on America’s COVID-19 response, it might be tempting to joke that our federal government is bound to merely pray for the virus’s extinction, or that it initially viewed “coronavirus” as a newly licensed term for alcohol poisoning. Yet some of the more serious concerns about the Trump administration’s potential handling of this outbreak are perfectly valid given its history of debunking scientifically reputed claims and diminishing the severity of urgent situations. Moving forward we should value scientists and other experts as credible voices not only on COVID-19, but also on important subjects that drive public debate (e.g. climate change, evolution and vaccinations).
Lastly, this outbreak presents us with yet another opportunity to reconsider our national healthcare system (i.e. here’s the obligatory political commentary that I often incorporate into these columns). I won’t use this space to endorse any particular policy proposals, but I can’t help but wonder how we might be better-positioned to address COVID-19 and other medical crises if we adopted elements of alternative healthcare infrastructures. While the costs of coronavirus treatment in America are still to be determined, prospects look grim considering that a significant sect of Americans already struggles to access and pay for medical care. Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower suggests that “hospital trips for suspected coronavirus infections could lead to exactly these health and money problems, while avoiding treatment for financial reasons could potentially amplify the spread of the virus.” Thus we must prioritize providing all Americans with free and universal healthcare in order to prevent such dilemmas.
Although COVID-19 might appear to be an isolated issue, its consequences don’t have to follow suit. Given that we carry and spread these lessons as opposed to the aforementioned virus, we’ll be well-suited to combat it and similar bouts of illness.
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Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.