What To Do
You have heard the basics about good hygiene and social distancing (and you will again here), but there are broader and more important measures to take to help ensure a good outcome when confronting a large-scale emergency. The first obstacle to overcome in any kind of crisis is usually ourselves. Anticipating, understanding and planning for your own reaction and those of the loved ones or strangers around you can help mitigate frustration and fear.
People with a positive attitude adapt to new situations more quickly than others. Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls this “growth mindset,” the attitude of people who are not discouraged easily and are willing to make mistakes.
“Some people have the mindset of the victim — the world happens to them,” according to Laurence Gonzales, author of the book “Deep Survival,” an analysis of survivor stories. “The other mindset people have is that they can direct their behavior and direct what happens in their lives — control their destiny to a large degree. They think, ‘Here’s something bad, now what can I do to not only deal with it but maybe turn it to my advantage?’ For people who look at themselves as victims, it’s a good idea to start practicing thinking about things in another way.”
Make a Plan:
According to the American Red Cross, taking the time to think through a situation and plan for various outcomes not only enhances success when confronting a crisis, but has the effect of both calming and energizing the people involved in it. A good plan runs the gamut from logistics to managing stress.
Practice Social Distancing:
You don’t have to be sick to spread the virus. During a press briefing at the White House March 16, the administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said that people without symptoms are unknowingly spreading the coronavirus. “We know there is virus spread before you develop symptoms, and we know there is a large group that actually is asymptomatic or has such mild cases that they continue to spread the virus … That’s why we’re asking every American to take personal responsibility to prevent that spread.”
Healthy people need to stay healthy; the more people who are sick at the same time, the more sickness will spread, the more vulnerable people will be affected, and the more pressure will come to bear on the medical system. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that half of American COVID-19 patients in intensive care units were adults under the age of 65.
But Stay Connected:
Our relationships and social connections are critical to increasing resilience and recovery after a disruptive event. Helping someone else can help you survive. Psychology professor John Leach, in his book “Survival Psychology,” said that medical responders have better survival rates in disasters because they are trying to help other people.
“Helping people gives you purpose,” he said. “Something as simple as comforting a child can make you feel useful, like you’re doing something. Otherwise, it’s easy to remain in a state of shock, staring off into space and not doing anything at all.”
Check the availability and hours of community services whether you need them or can perhaps help them. Many have shut down or reduced hours to avoid exposing crowds to coronavirus. If you are feeling ill or have been with someone who is ill, stay home.
Donate Blood, If You Can:
Bloodworks Northwest is asking everyone who can donate to do so as the Washington state blood supply falls to emergency levels. The most frequent donor group has been advised to stay home while schools and businesses have shutdown, closing off blood drives that makeup 60 percent of donations. Get answers, find a place to donate and make an appointment at www.schedule.bloodworksnw.org or 800-398-7888.
And, of course, Practice Good Hygiene:
- Cover a cough or sneeze in your arm instead of your hand.
- Dispose of used tissues promptly and properly.
- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds. Water temperature doesn’t matter.
- Thoroughly dry. Moist hands can breed germs. Paper towels are best for drying; air dryers are the worst.
- Don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces like doorknobs and light switches.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are sick. Keep sick children home.
- Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, exercise and manage stress to keep your immunity strong.
- Call your medical provider if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, especially a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Public health agencies recommend that people at higher risk of illness should:
- Avoid crowds of any size.
- Avoid anyone coming to your home who is sick or may have been exposed to the virus.
- Avoid visiting health care facilities except to get medical care.
People at higher risk include those:
- Over 60.
- With underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
- With weakened immune systems.
It can be relaxing to take a break from news and social media every day. To stay informed it’s best to consult a few different reliable outlets. Even then, sometimes going to the source is the best option.
- To check your symptoms or get other information in a free online consultation, go to www.chifranciscan.org or www.multicare.org/virtualcare.
- For general questions about COVID-19, call the Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 800-525-0127 and press #.
- For information on COVID-19 in Pierce County, go to www.tpchd.org or call 800-992-2456 (TDD: 253-798-6050).
- For information on a global scale, consult the World Health Organization at www.who.int.
- For information on a national scale, consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus. For its travel advisories, go to www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers.
- For the latest on commercial travel impacts, the website Tripadvisor has set up a forum for users to share stories from around the globe at www.tripadvisor.com/COVID-2019.
What Not to Do
Overwhelming events can paralyze people or make them feel they have lost control of their lives, and that can cause counterproductive and even dangerous behavior. Techniques to adapt to large-scale crises can counter feelings of helplessness and increase the chance of people surviving them and improving their situations, or at least not making things worse.
Don’t Tell People Not to Panic:
If someone is anxious or agitated, they don’t want to be told they’re wrong to feel that way. It’s more useful to listen, validate and brainstorm concrete steps to address their concerns.
“Personality, emotion, attitude, and how well people cope with adversity have more to do with survival than any type of equipment,” said Laurence Gonzales, author of the book “Deep Survival,” an analysis of survivor stories. “People who will be good at survival will get upset when something bad happens, but they’ll quickly regain emotional control and begin figuring out what the new reality looks like and what they can do about it.”
Don’t Ignore It:
“It will go away. Just stay calm.” This oft-repeated social media admonishment, like the insistence that COVID-19 is basically the common cold or flu, is counterproductive for a few reasons.
The United States was better prepared for the 2009 swine flu pandemic, a novel strain of the influenza A/H1N1 virus that caused the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-20, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within one year of discovery, it was in all 50 states, 59 million Americans had it, 265,000 were hospitalized, and 12,000 died.
Most people who develop COVID-19 will experience nothing worse than seasonal flu symptoms, but the spread and effect of the disease are more insidious. There are other at-risk groups — health workers, for example — who are more vulnerable because they are likely to have higher exposure to the virus. The behavior of healthy people, including reporting symptoms and following quarantine instructions, protects vulnerable people.
Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization led a mission to China to learn about the virus and that country’s response in January. He said the evidence suggests that current estimates of a roughly 1 percent fatality rate are accurate. That makes COVID-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent, and is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year around the world.
It is also likely that the outbreak will hurt far more people financially due to lost income and medical expenses than the disease itself.
Don’t Wear a Mask:
Unless you are already sick or helping someone who is.
Standard surgical masks cannot protect you from coronavirus. They are not designed to block out viral particles and do not lie flush to the face. Properly fitted masks can help prevent infected people from spreading the virus further by blocking respiratory droplets expelled from their mouths. Wearing one protects others and are essential for health care workers or family members attending patients. Ideally both the patient and caregiver should have a mask.
But it is not fail-safe protection against infection. Tiny viral particles, known as aerosols, can penetrate masks, especially non-medical dust masks. Viruses are also transmitted through the eyes (so don’t touch your face). Disposable masks must also be treated as contaminated material, responsibly disposed of and not reused. They will make little difference beyond causing others to think you’re sick or scaring them into wearing one too.
Don’t Go to the ER:
Or any other medical center before calling your health care provider first, if possible. They might be able to give you advice or instructions that will save you a trip or help you avoid exposure. CHI Franciscan is operating 11 COVID-19 triage centers around Washington including Gig Harbor. Franciscan said in a statement that “while every patient can be screened, only those who are at high risk and moderately symptomatic, or were exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient, will be offered COVID-19 testing — in line with official public health guidance.”
Don’t Spread Misinformation:
COVID-19 is not connected to race, ethnicity or nationality, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Health officials around the country have been compelled to issue similar statements to counter growing anti-Asian sentiments.
President Trump and other politicians have referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus” or “a foreign virus,” repeating some cable TV coverage and social media memes. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said they avoid using geographical disease names to prevent stigmatization and the impact it has had on reporting new outbreaks.
According to the CDC and other research centers, misinformation about diseases spread by social media makes people more vulnerable to disease. Measles, for example, a disease once eliminated in the United States, has reemerged after a single, long-debunked fraudulent study hit the internet, and has served as a fulcrum for the anti-vax movement ever since. That study became a basis for health hoaxes related to flu vaccines and immunization schedules.
Don’t Panic Buy and Hoard:
The threat of natural disasters or even severe weather naturally causes prudent people to stock up on supplies. Irrational stockpiling is something else.
“It is rational to prepare for something bad that looks like it is likely to occur,” according to David Savage, associate professor of behavioral and microeconomics at the University of Newcastle in Australia, which just survived a series of highly disruptive and widespread wildfires. However, “It is not rational to buy 500 cans of baked beans for what would likely be a two-week isolation period.”
Stocking up helps people feel they have some level of control over events they have no control over.
“Stocking up on toilet paper is a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are ‘doing something’ when they feel at risk,” said Brian Cook of the Disaster Risk Reduction Project at the University of Melbourne. It can also spur a herd mentality of panic buying and even hoarding, where people are influenced by watching or listening to others and adopt certain behaviors on an emotional, rather than rational, basis.
Hoarding makes people feel secure, Cook said. This is especially relevant when the world is faced with a novel disease over which there is little or no control. However, people can control things like having enough toilet paper in case they are quarantined.
Kroger said it is limiting individual purchases of “sanitization, cold and flu-related products,” while Home Depot is limiting the number of face masks in single orders placed online and in stores.
In February, panicked Japanese consumers stripped shelves bare of toilet paper, as unsubstantiated rumors of shortages circulated on social media, sending prices soaring.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the public to act calmly.
“Almost all the toilet paper consumed in Japan is manufactured in this country,” Abe said. “We don’t have to worry about supply from China. We have sufficient inventory and manufacturing capability in Japan.”