Vorsicht, Attention, Watch out! I am not trying to be an alarmist but I do want to raise alarm.
Let us see what makes COVID 19 alarming. After al, it is only a flu like virus. OK, However, in addition to causing pneumonia instead of sniffing like common cold, the main difference is that COVID-19 is contagious EVEN during the 14 days incubation period while there is NO symptom.
What does this mean? A real case study can demonstrate the danger: A New York attorney fell sick and was diagnosed as having caught COVID-19. Before the symptom appeared, he had already infected his wife, children, a neighboring couple and the friend who drove him to the hospital. As a result, the authorities traced back the activities in the two weeks before he “got sick” and closed the son’s school, the synagogue he attended and the building where he worked. It can very well become a “center” like in Northern Italy or Iran (where now more than two thousands infected and 77 died).
In Italy and in Iran, it jumped from “no infections” to scores “tested positive” and a few dead in a matter of a weekend. It is obvious that there were one or a few infected people went there some 14 days prior, unknowingly infected all those they came in contact or even just came close. We had been lucky in the sense there has not been any one tested positive in our area. However, things has changed. A Raleigh man went to visit Kirkland retirement home in Washington state where many “got the thing.” He came back through RDU on February 22, started to feel bad on February 25, went to the hospital on March 3 and tested positive in COVID-19. A WRAL news anchor said he was contagious between Feb 25 and March 3. No, I bag to differ. According to what I understand, he started to be in the incubation period before he came back, definitely when he was traveling through RDU airport. We can only pray that no one was within 5 feet of him in the long flight, in the airport, and no one touched anything he did touch. The way I understand it, all those sitting near him in the flight, all people who happened to be at RDU when he passed by and all those had contact with him or things he touched are in “suspicion.” They should be self quarantine for 14 days. It would be a kind thing to do and to be considerate to their fellow human beings.
In the mean while, for our own protection, we all should take measures, the similar way as against flu, but not only half heartedly as we have always done: wash our hands; not touching our faces; try not to touch anything; drink a lot of water; have enough sleep …
Now what is COVID-19?. It is so new some people may not have heard of it. Why is it bad? In merely five weeks since it was discovered, it infected 90 thousand people and killed more than two thousands.
Apparently, like SARS, Ebola … it is a virus that jumped species from infecting animals to humans. When it started from a food market in Wuhan, China, last November, the first patient(s) did not know the significance. When the health workers there recognized the importance, they were told by their government not to make it public, hoping to cover it up. Since it was not treated properly as a health threat, a few weeks later, it went out of control. That was near Chinese New Year’s Day when millions Chinese went from working in the big cities back to their homes in the country. It was indeed very bad timing concerning a dangerous infectious disease. News media here started to talk about it around Jan 25, Chinese New Year’s Day. By then, number of infected people was over ten thousand and death from it was in the hundreds. Even up to a week ago, I was still feeling lucky as if watching a wild fire getting out of control “on the other shore of the river” although I was sad about it. It was the early ban of travel from China kept the spread into this country, even though I was sort of worried about our detection and quarantine policy. Why?
You see, as I mentioned at the beginning, this virus is different because infection may occur from a person EVEN in the incubation period. Our traditional wisdom of blocking somebody by taking temperature at the entry point in the airport or quarantine some one after the person shows symptom is not good enough even though it was effective against the dangerous SARS, MERS, or Ebola. This method will stopped this new thing. However, if any one raise the alarm it would have been accused of being an alarmist!
This week (as of this writing, Feb 25, 2020), my most feared happened. COVID 19 appeared in a large scale seemingly from out of no where in three most unexpected places: Italy, Korea, and Iran. In only two or three days, the number of verified infected people jumped up to two, three digit numbers plus large number of death. Well, we know that the incubation period is about 14 days and death rate, under proper treatment, is about 1 to 2%. Simple deduction tells us that there must have been some people (maybe as few as only one) carried COVID 19 into those areas undetected within 14 days prior. And most likely, these few carriers did not show any symptom to raise any alarm before this out burst. Just a day after that, a few people in the US also were verified “to have it” and two died. This led me think (let this not “alarm” you because I do not want to be called an alarmist) what if some one in my neighborhood visited this beloved touristy Northern Italy before they locked it down, or any other places with some infected people before they show any symptoms.
Am I saying we are here helplessly waiting for the plague to descend upon us? Should we all stay home, blocking ourselves from outside (see below)? Of course not. I merely want to raise the awareness. (Maybe I should use the popular expression: “There is an existential threat.”) We need to alter our life style “slightly.” Now that there are computer virus so we install anti-virus program and update it often. We need to recognize it is part of our life now that we have add some precautions towards prevention of spread of COVID19: wash hands frequently; do not touch face with hands; do not touch other people (preferably no hand shaking); always cough into some clothing (kerchief, napkin, shirt sleeve …); wear face mask … This adaptation is not anything new. Presumably, personal hygiene started after the plague. Tracing back further, Moses found wearing mixed weave, eating mixed meat, especially pig’s meat was bad for the health so he forbid all that, even wrote it into the laws.
So, we need to change (adjust) slightly or personal hygiene habit. What I mentioned is the same as what doctors recommend against common flu. Yes, we simply have to do it for real, not half heartedly as before. About hand kerchief, I was trained from our elementary school time to carry one. About face mask, all school children in Taiwan, Korea, Japan wear them. It is very common there for adults to wear them too. In this country, I only have seen very few do, mostly for special health reason. I wish it were more excepted. Don’t be shy to wear a face mask. I have heard that in California, especially in LA where there are more Asians, non-Asians would not wear face masks and will laugh at Asians who wear them, sneering at them, fleering at them, jeering at them, or even beat them up. (I borrowed a few phrases from the Gilbert and Sullivan show, Patience, which we will do in Carolina Theater in Durham, in March.)
As for locking yourself up, that is what my 99 year old sister is told to do by her children in L A. Starting the past few weeks, they told her not to go out her apartment; spray the door handle with disinfectant when she goes to check mail … I think that’s what we all should do. We should use “shoe-touching” to replace handshaking. Air kisses and air hugs are so much stylish and so exotic, we should all practice.