EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a letter to the editor written by DailyTrib.com reader Herb Krasner. DailyTrib.com welcomes opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and comments from readers. All submissions go through an approval process.
Today, Americans face the same choice as our ancestors did with previous pandemics. We can listen to the scientists/experts and spend the money and take necessary actions to save lives, or we can watch our neighbors, friends, and family members die. The economy will never make a full comeback until we stop this pandemic. I want to talk about what you need to know and what you can do right now to help gain control of the situation.
Texas is in crisis. It is a major hot spot right now with outrageous growth of cases in the urban areas, overwhelming our health care systems. But even in rural counties like Burnet, the growth rate is serious. In fact, our rate of case growth is now doubling every 13 days as we top over 300 confirmed cases (as of July 18). Every area of Burnet County is affected. This growth is not just because we are testing more. The quality of testing is a whole other subject for later discussion.
There was a sad report recently about a 30-year-old man who attended a “COVID party” in San Antonio. Just before he died, he told his nurse: “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” Imagine how his whole family now feels. It appears that whom you are willing to listen to may save your life or the life of a loved one. Even if you don’t die from COVID-19, it can cause serious long-term disabilities.
Another article closer to home in Spicewood (Travis County) describes where 300 teenagers attended a party in June leading to a huge upsurge of doctor visits in the Bee Cave/Lakeway area shortly thereafter. Right now, the effects of July 4 celebrations are hitting an already overloaded health care system.
Front-line health care workers are stressed to the max and may not have sufficient PPE, ICU beds, test kits, and other essential items. Horror stories are dominating the daily news.
What do we really know about the mechanics of COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 is not like the regular flu. It is considerably more infectious and deadlier. It can kill anyone of any age. It is also more serious for certain classes of people (e.g. elderly) and is disproportionately spreading to certain subgroups in our country.
Evidence shows COVID-19 is primarily transmitted via aerosol droplets coming from the mouth and nose of an infected person (whether symptomatic or not). The primary receiving point of these droplets is someone else’s nasal cavity, but transmission is possible through the mouth and eyes, too. How these airborne droplets behave is pretty well understood in most common settings. Close contact is not the only means of transmission, and there are many documented cases where someone was only in the vicinity of an infected person and got it (especially indoors). The virus does live on some surfaces, and it is possible to touch it and transmit it by then touching your face. However, that does not seem to be the primary way it is spread.
The disease symptoms, biological actions, and potential infection complications are out of scope for this article. To help you understand the effectiveness and safety of the currently viable treatment options, The New York Times created a treatment tracker of the 20 most-talked-about treatments, grouped according to approach and ranked according to level of promise. Hydroxychloroquine is not one of those.
So, what can we do to help stop the spread?
From the point of view of an infected person, any mask can inhibit the projection of the virus when exhaled. From the point of view of a non-infected bystander, any mask can help inhibit the inhalation of the droplets. This simple technique is a major force in preventing the spread of the virus. What type of mask is best depends on the situation, but the only mask that fully prevents aerosol-size droplet inhalation is at least an N95. Those masks are super hard to come by right now and don’t protect your eyes. A lot of people wear a mask but don’t cover their nose; this is a huge mistake.
So, in summary, the best advice that we can now follow until a vaccine becomes widely available is:
- Stay at home if possible – especially high-risk groups (e.g. elderly)
- Social distancing (6 feet may not be enough in some situations. An unprotected cough or sneeze can project out way farther than that and hover in the air for awhile.)
- Stay away from enclosed room situations with close personal interactions and/or poor ventilation and any event with densely packed people.
- Wear a mask when out and about with other questionably safe people and inside all businesses. Safety gloves and goggles might be appropriate in some situations, too.
- Wash hands or sanitize after touching questionable objects/surfaces. Don’t touch your face.
- Sanitize questionable surfaces/objects before using.
- If you have been exposed or tested positive, self-quarantine and let all of your recent close contacts know so they can be on guard as well.
- Be vigilant. Even if you get it and recover, we don’t know how long immunity lasts. You can get it again.
- Outside activities alone or with a few trusted family members and other individuals is less risky and very manageable.
The mask is not a political statement. It is one way to show others that you respect and care for their health. Hopefully, all businesses will soon be putting up new signs saying “no shirt, no shoes, no mask – NO SERVICE!” as they are protecting themselves and their businesses by doing so.
What does the near future hold?
In the immediate future, one of the biggest decisions to make is what to do about the upcoming school year. Here again our government leadership has been less than helpful. On July 17, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany saidPresident Donald Trump wants schools to reopen: “When he says open, he means open and full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their (physical) school. The science should not stand in the way of this.”
The statement above is not a strategy or a plan and is also in direct contrast with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the science is actually saying. This leaves every school district, school, and all parents on their own. In my view, there is no way we can reopen schools for normal instruction this year. I am so sorry about this for my granddaughters and all the great teachers out there.
There is considerable hope for an effective vaccine to appear later this year. If that indeed happens, ramping up production and delivery mechanisms will be the potential bottlenecks as well as simultaneously dealing with flu season. The status of vaccine research around the world is another topic to explore at a later time, but many good candidates are in clinical trials already. So, there is reason to hope for “herd immunity” in the future. But until we achieve that, there are some specific actions you can take to help stop this disease.
Individually you can:
- Stay informed and listen to the medical and scientific experts.
- Plan ahead for a possible exposure and/or infection in your home.
- Take everyday precautions appropriate to your specific situation (see list above).
- If you get sick, isolate and seek medical advice; notify recent close contacts.
- If you have recovered, donate to the plasma bank.
- Support organizations that are helping to fight the disease or that support affected communities.
- Help others who are struggling/sick/need help.
- Pray for our front-line and health care workers; donate PPE if you can.
- Educate your families, friends, and communities.
Collectively, let’s remember that “United we stand, divided we fall”. Thus, we can:
- Stop politicizing this disease and start working together toward real solutions.
- Come up with real plans for the nation, state, county, city, schools, etc.
- Demand people (e.g. leaders) take responsibility for their actions or non-actions.
- Come together as a resilient local community.
- Choose leaders who can understand the role of science in decision-making and have empathy for the plight of the people.
Now is your opportunity to make a real difference in the future of this country. What we are currently doing isn’t working particularly well, so what do we have to lose?
Herb Krasner is a retired senior faculty member from the University of Texas and a longtime computer software engineering consultant. He keeps busy with a wide variety of interests, projects, and his family and friends.