DANIEL VAUGHAN: Be prepared, not scared, for COVID-19

I find myself increasingly irritated with everything related to COVID-19.

I shared a meme with friends this past weekend, a “Baby Yoda” meme naturally, showing the Mandalorian character with a confused face alongside a simple caption: “Me trying to figure out how ‘Wash your hands,’ translates to ‘Buy all the toilet paper.”

Indeed, COVID-19 is a viral disease — nothing new here. We have tried and tested methods of slowing the spread of all germs on Earth, yet it seems like everyone wants to jump off a ledge into “lose their minds” mode at this point instead.

Combine that utter nonsense — people stockpiling toilet paper — with the government’s rank incompetence throughout this entire ordeal, and you get a sense of the complete idiocy of our current moment.

And the government has been incompetent. Admittedly, when it comes to pushing back against a virus, unless a government is willing to resort to Chinese-style authoritarian force, attempting to control every aspect of people’s lives, there’s little a government can do to prevent the spread of disease. The frontlines of that come down to personal hygiene.

But one thing the government can do is control borders and check travelers from sick regions or the world, or who have symptoms. There’s little evidence we’re stopping anyone coming from these regions of the world — even though that’s precisely what we should be doing.

The other thing the government can do is push COVID-19 tests out the door and get them into the hands of doctors and first responders. The government is just now getting that part done. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Saturday that “1.1 million tests have been shipped to nonpublic health labs,” with hundreds of thousands in quality control and potentially millions more shipping out by the end of next week.

More testing is good — but it also means that we’re going to find more people who have COVID-19. That means the number of people who we know are infected will skyrocket.

That part shouldn’t be a surprise, but it will be, which will probably cause even more panic. The national media, who have been spinning a negative narrative around this, will predictably freak out, even though we’ve intuitively guessed there are far more Americans infected than we’ve known about for some time.

It’s a negative self-feeding loop of freak-out and panic. The media wants this narrative, so they’re pushing it as hard as possible. And people are responding by panic-buying toilet paper. It’s a reactionary, fear-based response to a virus that we can control through elementary hygiene and social distancing measures.

In examining the 2009–2010 H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: “[W]e cannot expect to contain geographically the next influenza pandemic in the location it emerges, nor can we expect to prevent international spread of infection for more than a short period.” The goal instead was to rely on “nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as social distancing, will be heavily relied on by health authorities to slow influenza transmission in the community.”

People will still contract the virus, but the rate that it is spreading will be significantly slowed. Social distancing means limiting large group events and maintaining a distance between other people.

Doing things like this, washing hands, and keeping clean areas will make it harder for the virus to spread. More importantly, however, by slowing COVID-19 down, it reduces the load on health care services, so they don’t get swamped. If health services get overwhelmed, it increases the likelihood of people dying from COVID-19 and other health complications.

The 2009–2010 H1N1 pandemic resulted in 60.8 million cases, with approximately 275,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC. No health care system in the world can handle that load all at once. Getting people to follow necessary procedures limits the impact of a virus. Scaremongering in the media does not.

And it’s not hard; the mainline of prevention is washing your hands. You don’t need fancy anti-bacterial soap to accomplish that. Simple soap will do. Japanese researchers studied the effects of various soaps on flu viruses and found a surprising result; according to MinnPost:

Washing your hands under running water — even without soap — is more effective at stopping the spread of flu germs than using ethanol-based hand sanitizers, according to Japanese researchers.

The reason: When wet mucus surrounds the virus, it acts as a protective hydrogel, keeping the disinfectant from reaching and killing the germs. But when you wash with running water, the rubbing action of your hands (if you do it thoroughly) removes the mucus and washes the virus down the drain.

Don’t go out hoarding hand sanitizer or worry about whether your soap is anti-bacterial or not. Just get good hand soap, and follow smart handwashing protocols, where you wash and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. Not only will you wash away viruses like COVID-19, but you’ll also wash away the flu, which is also still in-season, and other harmful viruses and bacteria.

Maybe, once this entire fiasco dies down, Americans will not only have survived another pandemic, but also emerged with better hygiene habits. And maybe people will just start washing their hands instead of stockpiling toilet paper.

One can only hope.