What next as we navigate COVID-19?
Mar. 17, 2020
By Mary Wade Burnside
By now, you know to cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home from work if you are sick and to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
You should do that for at least 20 seconds, long enough to sing the chorus to “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Of course, you can choose whatever song works for you. If you do, it really is an effective way to keep scrubbing for the amount of time it takes to get the germs off your hands.
But the scenario has changed drastically in the past few days. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the situation a pandemic. West Virginia University has announced plans to extend Spring Break and then hold online classes indefinitely. On Friday, Gov. Jim Justice announced that public schools in the state will be closed indefinitely.
On a national level, the NBA announced plans to suspend the basketball season and the NCAA followed suit by canceling March Madness.
And America’s favorite actor, Tom Hanks, announced that he and his wife have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia, and then England's favorite actor, Idris Elba, followed suit.
Even though West Virginia still has no reported cases of the illness, also known as coronavirus, it’s clearly time to discuss this new phase and how to proceed from here.
At Monongalia County Health Department, we’re telling people to use a commonsense approach when it comes to attending public activities and interacting with people.
But it’s also a good idea to be mindful of some key points. Such as social distancing.
Social distancing, of course, is the practice of keeping yourself away from others in various contexts.
Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD’s executive director and the county health officer, is recommending social distancing when it comes to two people interacting when one of them is sick. If both are wearing a mask and standing 6 feet apart, they can interact for 10 minutes without having any more chance of contracting COVID-19 than when talking to someone who is well.
There are scenarios to which social distancing could be applied. For instance, we know elderly individuals have a higher chance of experiencing complications, and even death, with COVID-19. At the same time, children, especially those ages 9 and under, have not been getting COVID. But there is fear that they could be silent carriers. So that is something to think about when planning family visits or babysitting duties.
It also can be as simple as not using a handshake as a greeting. Elbow bumps and foot taps have worked as substitutions for some.
I personally made the decision to cut back on some activities. At first, I wondered if I was being premature. I also was primarily thinking of avoiding getting a case of COVID-19 myself.
But thanks to a Facebook post by West Virginia author Denise Giardina, I realize there is another way to look at it: I’m willing to do my part to help protect other people.
“Whether it is washing hands or avoiding handshakes or the more rigorous act of self-quarantine, what is being asked is that the vast majority of people come together united in order to protect the most vulnerable among us, who are indeed at risk,” Giardina wrote.
“The majority are being asked to self-sacrifice for the sake of others. What a tribute to humanity when this happens.”
Of course, this is a fast-changing situation. One way to keep up is to follow MCHD’s COVID-19 web page: monchd.org/covid-19.html. One page connects you to the COVID-19 pages of WVU, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as updates as they come in. You can also follow MCHD’s social media: Facebook and Twitter @wvmchd and Instagram at wvmchd.
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.