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Foiling virus is only one of your public health duties

Time:2020-03-12 23:38wine - Red wine life health Click:

elbow bump public health virus coronavirus COVID-19

Foiling virus is only one of your public health duties


The coronavirus has arrived in the Chicago area. Nationally, more than 1,200 cases have been diagnosed across 41 states, and over 37 Americans have died. The numbers are bound to rise in the coming days. It's unlikely that any geographic region on Earth that isn't isolated _ Antarctica, we wish you good fortune _ will be spared from the scary respiratory illness that is making its way around the globe.

Public health agencies, hospitals and health care workers at all levels will be doing everything they can to curtail the spread of the disease and treat those who become infected. But it's not their job alone, or even chiefly. Public health is not only a governmental task but also the duty of every citizen. What you do can make a difference in whether you get COVID-19, and whether others in your life suffer from it.

Living by public health ethic

We'll get back to this particular virus and how to thwart its spread. More broadly, this is a teachable moment, a chance for each of us to renew our commitments to protecting one another. Abiding by those responsibilities _ think of this as living a public health ethic _ is a constantly evolving set of duties and precautions. And it involves far more than foiling infectious diseases.

Consider how, over the last half-century, Americans have come to view impaired driving as a menace not only to the drunken or high motorist, but to all those around him or her. Separately, the once common spreading of secondhand smoke is now taboo. More recently, all but the thickest-headed parents have come to understand their public duty to have their children vaccinated against measles and other childhood illnesses.

As a society we don't yet make pariahs of people who fiddle with smartphones while behind the steering wheel, but as the death toll from distracted driving rises, we can hope that this practice, too, becomes verboten _ the better to strengthen public health.

Smart habits should outlast rush to sanitize

Don't think of the practices detailed here as smart habits all of us can abandon if or when the coronavirus scare dissipates. Our responsibilities to one another are perpetual, not momentary. That means we should be thinking whether some of the changes this moment necessitates ought to become permanent.

We were heartened Tuesday when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago released guidelines for parishioners concerned about the potential spread of the disease. Among the changes to routines at Mass: no contact during the sign of peace, no using holy water fonts, no communion in the form of wine.

Changing these traditional practices will reassure some Catholics and probably annoy others. To the extent that communion in particular involves church doctrine, we offer no opinion or advice. But we hope that at some point archdiocesan officials consider making these changes permanent. Doing so almost certainly would thwart the spread of communicable diseases _ the coronavirus on everyone's mind today and others that perennially threaten public health.

What each of us can expect of one another

The mundane but crucial steps for individuals in protecting one another from this multitude of diseases, fortunately, are simple and effective. At the very top of the list is washing your hands or using sanitizer _ in the restroom, of course, but also after sneezing or coughing into your hand, and after making physical contact with other people or communal surfaces. And "washing" doesn't mean a quick rinse. It means using soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds and getting every spot.

Another mundane step that should make you feel virtuous: Try not to touch your face, except with a sudsy washcloth.

As for making physical contact with other people, don't _ unless you really need to. Drop the handshake for an elbow bump or a polite nod. The French government has told citizens to forgo the traditional greeting of kisses on each cheek, so if you're fond of that custom, abstain for the time being. Merci.

An inoculation for the virus isn't yet available, but take this opportunity to get vaccinated for the flu and other preventable infections if you haven't already. Gaining immunity against one illness can only be an asset if your body has to fight off a coronavirus infection. It also reduces the burden on health providers at a time when they may be stretched thin.

If you're feeling healthy, you might stock up on groceries and medicines in case you do get sick and can't leave the house for several days. If you feel ill, check in with your doctor and stay at home _ and if you don't have paid sick days, ask your employer to make an exception this time for the sake of your co-workers. Maybe you can't avoid places where people congregate. You can, though, behave as though all of those in the crowd depend on you to help protect them. They do.

How people resolve that issue _ should I go to this gathering? _ has potentially damaging implications for a Chicago that thrives on conventions and tourism. With a March housewares convention at McCormick Place canceled Tuesday, 60,000 visitors won't arrive here. Which means the hospitality industry already is paying a price for the reality, and the fear, of coronavirus.

When other people panic

What not to do? Start with not rushing out to stockpile surgical masks. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted, "They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!" Be wary of miracle remedies being peddled online. A health crisis is always happy hour for hucksters.

Equally important, don't join in a panic that can be more communicable than any disease. So far, at least, the great majority of those infected have mild symptoms, if any. The mortality rate, although higher than that of seasonal influenza, is lower than for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which first appeared in 2002, or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which emerged in 2012.

At the moment, at least, your chance of getting this disease is low, your chance of dying from it is close to zero. But taking practical preventive steps will reduce the risk even more. And many of the practices that should become a habit will prove helpful in warding off other diseases, now and in the future. The fight against the coronavirus and other communicable diseases is one that every American can help wage. This moment should make all of us more mindful of our duties to protect everyone's good health.

The above article appeared in the Chicago Tribune. It was distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


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