COLUMN: Coronavirus fears are reasonable and even helpful. Just don’t be an idiot.

Realizing the danger posed by COVID-19 is necessary. But wash your hands with soap, not bleach.

It’s reasonable to wonder if all this coronavirus talk isn’t hyperbolic. We in the media are not immune from flocking towards the big story of the day. As many, many people have noted: the flu exists and it kills large numbers of people every year. We just deal with it.

COVID-19 blessedly spares the young and the young-ish, it’s not that easily transmitted, and you need to have close contact with a person to be at high risk of contracting the virus. Simple soap and water kills it!

So what’s the big deal? Why is there so much attention on this virus with flu-like symptoms. As one person put it to me, what’s with all the darn propaganda?

Now, some of these questions are easily answered. COVID-19 can be very deadly for certain groups of people: Within a month it killed 20 – twenty! – people in the same nursing home. And there is no vaccine, unlike influenza.

And if you care about no one else, you should know that the rapid spread of the virus can end up indirectly hurting or killing you, even if you never contract COVID-19.

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Just look to Italy, where the hospitals are unable to cope with the massive numbers of people with the new coronavirus. That’s forcing tough decisions that impact not only those with the virus, but anybody and everybody else who needs medical treatment.

Those who contract the virus end up in hospital needing significant treatment at far higher rates than those who get the flu. And because there is no vaccine, the virus can spread quite quickly if left unchecked.

Now consider B.C.

You’ve likely read about patients being stuck for days in an emergency room. Those frequently occur in winter’s flu season, when hospitals are the most crowded and there are few spaces to put patients.

It doesn’t matter if you have the flu or not, you can feel its effects if you need medical treatment. You get stuck in a hallway. You can’t get sleep. Your doctor is extremely busy and is juggling dozens of patients.

Thankfully, B.C. has been doing an admirable job of testing for, and tracking, coronavirus cases. We have as good a shot as anywhere at controlling its spread. But Washington State, which I can see from The News building, has an uncontrolled outbreak, with dozens of cases spreading through unknown carriers. Some will inevitably cross the border.

The imperative is to slow down COVID-19’s spread to reduce the strain on our hospitals and health care workers. This is called “flattening the curve.” The idea is that even if most people might eventually get the virus, it’s far more harmful if they all get it at the same time because any health care system – which helps us survive much longer than our ancestors did – doesn’t have unlimited capacity.

In Italy’s Lombardy region, 80 per cent of the region’s acute care beds are filled with coronavirus patients. Those beds weren’t all empty before COVID-19 showed up. Instead, hospitals are opening make-shift locations to deal with the surge in patient counts.

When you can’t give the best medical care to everybody, more people will die.

This is the danger. It’s not inevitable, but to avoid that future, everybody needs to do their part. And we can’t limit the spread of COVID-19 if we don’t understand the threat it poses. So while panic isn’t helpful, some degree of fear isn’t just understandable, it’s reasonable and necessary.

One thing, though: Don’t be an idiot. It’s OK to be wary of mass gatherings or close interactions with others. But don’t hoard toilet paper, wash your hands with bleach or chug alcohol to try to protect yourself.

Soap works well to kill the virus, so wash your hands often. Self-isolate if you show symptoms. Don’t touch your face. And if you are showing symptoms and need to go to a hospital or doctor’s office, call before you show up. Click here for more.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News

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