The coronavirus has arrived in the U.S., and many are starting to feel nervous about this foreign disease. As officials brace themselves for an epidemic, what measures are they taking to prevent the spread of this disease? What measures do they have in place to treat those who become ill? Do they expect the virus to reach pandemic proportions in this nation? Here’s what you need to know.
What Do Experts Recommend People Do to Protect Themselves?
Like many viruses that cause the common cold, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 travels through person-to-person contact. However, the bug can also linger on surfaces, although scientists don’t know a precise time frame yet. They can estimate, based on the recent SARS and MERS outbreaks, that it can live anywhere from two hours to as long as nine days, depending on the material.
Therefore, the best ways to prevent transmission involve keeping the virus from entering your body through the skin or the mucus membranes. What do experts recommend that individuals do?
Carry Hand Sanitizer
While officials remain unsure how effectively hand sanitizer works against this strain of the coronavirus, keeping as clean as possible can’t hurt. Carry the gel with you everywhere and use it regularly — and correctly. Red Cross instructors recommend that you rub the substance in thoroughly. Wiping the excess on your pants won’t result in maximum germ-killing.
Wear a Mask If You’re Sick
While experts don’t recommend typical surgical masks for disease prevention — the virus can squeeze through — you should wear one if you feel under the weather. This action protects others in your family or social circle from contacting surfaces that are contaminated with droplets from your sneezes or coughs. N95 masks can stop 95% of the disease transmission, but given scarcity concerns, experts recommend that these devices go to health care professionals first.
Wash Your Hands
The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through thorough handwashing. However, you need to do more than give your digits a cursory rinse after using the restroom. Experts recommend lathering up and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds each time — approximately as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head.
Also, strive to keep your hands away from your face. You could accidentally touch a surface contaminated with the virus and introduce it through the membranes of your nose or eyes.
Stay Home If You’re Sick
You have heard newscasters repeat this advice every cold and flu season, but if at all possible, workers should call in if they’re ill. The problem is that, for many workers, a sick day represents a luxury they can’t afford. Fully 25% of all U.S. workers receive no paid leave, many of whom work in the childcare, food service or construction industries. If eight hours of lost hourly wages result in coming up short on rent, going in often proves preferable to eviction.
Will Scientists Create a Vaccine?
Scientists are hard at work to discover a vaccine, but no one knows for sure right now how long approval will take. Some estimates run as high as 12 to 18 months before one is available, and even then, the Trump administration has refused to make it free for all. That poses two problems — how many people will die before a vaccine is developed, and how to inoculate those with insufficient means.
While people should hope that the money invested in a vaccine will lead to rapid results, it isn’t a failsafe. In the meantime, people should continue to protect themselves using the measures above.
What Can Employers Do?
If you’re an employer, you can do your part to help stop the spread of this potential pandemic. Even if you don’t typically offer paid leave, consider instituting an interim policy until the threat passes. It’s not enough to tell your staff to stay home if doing so means they’re unable to eat for the remainder of the month. Exercise empathy.
If your industry allows it, consider implementing telecommuting policies for those who aren’t sure they have this strain or not. It’s far better to lose one employee’s sunny smile for a day or two than to have the entire accounting department risk infection.