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14-8 A call to action: what you can do to fight this epidemic

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I hope this chapter has helped you learn more about SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes. Even in the best of circumstances, the world, and especially America, has a long, hard fight ahead of it. All the frightening news stories can leave one feeling powerless against this disease. But that is not the case at all. There is a lot you can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

  • Wear a mask to prevent spreading the COVID-19 to others. A recent paper in Nature indicated those ill with coronavirus will shed droplets containing the virus into the air. However, if the person wore a surgical mask, virus in droplets were undetectable. Other studies have shown that even masks made out of T-shirt cotton are 70% effective at blocking particles. This is so important because initial infection with SARS-CoV-2 is asymptomatic for around five days, yet the infected person will be shedding virus. For some reason, this has become a political statement and a sign of bravery, which is ridiculous. Avoiding wearing a mask is not brave; it's selfish.
  • If you are ill, self-quarantine. In the outbreak in South Korea, a COVID-19 (+) patient was asked to self-quarantine, but ignored those rules and went to a church service. Her carelessness became a super spreading event initiating thousands of other infections. Stay home if you are sick! And please, continue that behavior after this epidemic is over. This one drives me nuts. In American society, it is somehow laudable to soldier on even if you are sick. Unfortunately, many workplaces offer no paid sick leave, making staying home for many impossible. This absurd predicament is not only cruel, but it also decreases productivity and increases employee turnover rates.In other words not providing paid sick leave to your employees is penny wise and pound foolish. You are losing money.
  • Listen to your national, state, and city health departments and do what they ask. If we follow local social distancing guidelines, we can significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
  • When a vaccine becomes available, get vaccinated. The death rate from this infection is at best 0.5%. That seems small, but since we think that the entire world population is susceptible, that's over 35 million people!
  • The next two suggestions are a bit off the wall, but the science seems reasonable, if untested. Take vitamin D. Studies with influenza have shown that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of influenza. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome, a complication of COVID-19 that is one of the most serious. I would like to see more supporting evidence showing vitamin D supplementation does make a difference for COVID-19.
  • Using mouthwash could reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A study in Function by O'Donnell et al. reasons that since SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus, meaning a membrane surrounds the viral RNA, a mouthwash that disrupts that membrane would reduce the viral load of infected individuals. They point to other studies with influenza and other coronaviruses that demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach. Again, more work needs to be done on SARS-CoV-2 to show mouthwash works. But, even if it doesn’t work, you breath will be much fresher.
  • Stay calm and act rationally. In the wake of the social distancing orders and the beginning of the outbreak in the US, people were afraid. In response to that fear, they purchased a large amount of toilet paper and bottled water. That was not necessary.
  • The good news is that our cooperation as a society does not have to be perfect. If about 70% of a population does what is necessary, we can beat back COVID-19. Or course, the more cooperation we have, the faster we get there.

One thing this epidemic has shown everyone is that we need each other. The doctors, nurses, and caregivers are there to treat all those sicked by the illness. Farmers grow food year-round, and food processing plants turn that into the products we consume. Truckers, railway operators, US postal workers, and all the others in the transportation industry get the food and supplies we need to their destinations. Grocery store workers stock the shelves and help us to get the food we need. And do not forget the police and firefighters who are still on the job to keep us safe. Without all these essential employees, society would not function. It's a little ironic that these occupations are some of the lowest-paid positions. They should not be!

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