Poster ›I have a name, but it doesn’t matter‹ [我有一個名字，但不相干。] by an artist called Eddie, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 2019/12/24, photo © Wanda Proft
The novel coronavirus is spreading within communities worldwide. We have to face the sad truth: SARS-CoV-2 is a pandemic, we can’t stop that from happening any more. What we can and need to do is steering the middle course between panicking and downplaying the severeness of the crisis.
Our goal now has to be preventing as many new transmissions as possible. By doing so, we are ›flattening the curve‹ as I already explained in the first part of this article series. We might still have a huge amount of cases until the pandemic is over, but our health systems can bear the pressure and give everyone the help they need as this graph illustrates:
Shifting from worry mode to seeing things clearly
I remember when the panic started to seep into my bones. Following the timely alertness of my Hong Kong bubble, I was properly prepared before the public attention for the novel coronavirus had reached Japan. My supply on face masks and disinfections was secured and I had adapted to a new daily routine.
But from one day to the next, all stocks of necessities to battle the at that time epidemic had vanished from the shop shelves. This was the moment it hit me. It felt like a switch was turned from rational mode to worry mode. Even though I knew, I was set, something in the atmosphere in Japan had changed.
In addition to that, Chinese New Year had just started and due to the delay of the Chinese government to make the outbreak public, millions of Chinese tourists traveled to their hometowns and all over the world. Contradicting the seriousness of the virus, many of my fellow Chinese students at language school seemed not to worry at all at that point.
What helped me to get and stay sober-minded, was absorbing lots and lots of news and media responses. Not so much the panicking, but the informing ones. Sharing the gained knowledge helped as well. I talked a lot with my friends and family. And now, I am continuing the exchange through this series with the wish it may help you too.
Six things you need to do to face the Novel Coronavirus crisis:
- Don’t panic! Make a rational assessment instead.
- Think and act for the community, not only for yourself.
- Don’t be racist.
- Personal hygiene and social distancing are key.
- Self-care is health-care.
- To mask or not to mask?
As mentioned before, I am neither a medical professional nor am I trained in crisis management. But I rely on professional sources and communicate what I know with utmost due diligence.
1. Don’t panic! Make a rational assessment instead.
Really, don’t lose your head over this. We need to take the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19 serious, that is no question. But educate yourself and follow reason instead of panic in your decision making. Panic creates chaos and is a danger in itself as it leads to further problems. Take a deep breath and look at the facts.
- First, consider where you live. Even when there are cases close to you, things will never get as bad as they were in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. The concentration of infected with the new virus was very troublesome for the local health system and affected every aspect of daily life. This won’t happen where you are, because:
- Now is not three months ago. Understand where we are now. As with all new, unknown viruses, there was not much knowledge about how to battle it at first. This has changed. Even though there is no vaccine or specific treatment yet, modern healthcare has many means to treat the symptoms of COVID-19. Even if you get caught up in a local cluster case, people will know much better what to do.
- Would you be a high-risk patient? Luckily, SARS-CoV-2 does not affect children and young people that much. Elderly people over 60 as well as those with underlying health conditions are much more likely to develop severe reactions to an infection. If you are part of these groups or have family members or friends who are, keep calm and take appropriate measures.
If not, you would most likely only have mild to moderate symptoms when contracting the novel coronavirus—or even no symptoms at all. Have you ever had pneumonia in your life? It sucks, but you’ll get through this! Shift your worry towards care for others.
- Put the threat into context. I mentioned this before in the first part of this article series: It is much more likely you’ll be troubled by a car accident, diabetes, a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV, or the seasonal flu. We have learned how to limit these risks and incorporated proper behavior into our daily lives. Let’s do this with this new virus as well!
- Inform yourself about the symptoms. The typical symptoms are dry cough, shortness of breath, difficulties breathing, elevated temperature, and overall fatigue. Less common are chills, limb pain, headaches, a blocked or running nose, and diarrhea.
- Know what to do in a case of infection. Check the local authorities for the current situation in your region. Governments and health departments, as well as independent scientific institutions, have put out statements and advice. There are also specific hotlines you can call. When you assume you could be infected, contact your family doctor or local hotline to ask what you should do. Please follow their advice and don’t just go to a doctor’s practice or hospital before calling.
- Please don’t underestimate the situation. This is not the end of the world, but we only have to look towards Italy to see how quickly things can turn. It might not hit you, but you could contract the virus, have some symptoms, recover quickly, but spread it to others. No matter how small the mortality rate is, people are dying.
It should go without saying that you need to differentiate between sources. But when you pick up a worrying rumor on Facebook, for example, verify it with a professional source. Listen to authorities, sometimes more the scientific ones, than political leaders.
If someone tells you, the novel coronavirus will »miraculously disappear in April« like Trump did, know that the infection rate could slow down, but the virus is still going to be there. There is a difference between calming down a nation and ignoring facts like the Iranian deputy health minister proved when appearing on television with obvious symptoms of having contracted the virus himself. And don’t believe stuff like it is possible to steam masks for re-using them, which the Hong Kong politician and chairwoman of the parliament’s Panel on Health Services, Ann Chiang, suggested.
There are many good professionals speaking about the pandemic in podcasts and news outlets. Send me a message if you’d like some recommendations in English and German, I’m compiling a list.
2. Think and act for the community, not only for yourself.
Being on alert is not only for your own sake. It’s good when you feel safe for yourself because you are young and healthy. But consider the elderly man sitting next to you on the train. Or the young woman on the other side, who might be fighting cancer. Many people around us, including in our immediate families and social circles, are more vulnerable.
Also remember, some countries have good and prepared health systems. But others aren’t that lucky. When we speak about the most vulnerable, we should take into account that it does not only include our grandparents, but the less fortunate all over the world.
Every measure we take as a community slows down the natural course of a pandemic. We might not be able to stop the spreading of SARS-CoV-2 completely. But slowing down the process means that our health systems can take better care of patients.
Look at the death rate for COVID-19, for example. It is much higher for Wuhan than any other place because too many people were in need and not everyone could receive the necessary help. Some parts of Italy are currently facing a similar situation. And this isn’t a ›Chinese‹ or an ›Italian‹ problem. Test kits and hospital beds in infectious disease units are limited everywhere in the world.
- So please act on all the advised measures not only for your safety but also for everybody else’s. Don’t take things too lightly.
- Don’t panic buy toilet paper, rice, noodles, canned food, and so on. Yes, think a bit ahead and stock up some essentials. But in a moderate manner if at all, you are the fuck not alone in the world!
- Protect the most vulnerable by not going to hospitals when feeling sick and avoid visiting grandparents especially after traveling. Some countries imposed orders that prohibit relatives to visit nursing homes for the elderly. If yours hasn’t, still don’t go to protect your beloved ones and others.
- Help others such as elderly neighbors or sick family members. Offer to go shopping, for example, so they are less exposed.
- Consider a flu shot. Fewer people needing help for contracting influenza means more capacity for other patients. This is also a time that should remind us how severe the flu is. Elderly citizens should also take a pneumococci vaccine.
- Work at home and refrain from attending public events—more on that in point four.
- Refrain from traveling, especially to places with weak health systems and a high number of confirmed cases.
3. Don’t be racist.
Come on, just don’t! But here are some facts against the racist slurs and deeds against Chinese and Asians all over the world.
- Chinese are victims of the novel coronavirus as well, let’s not forget that. There is also a public outcry within Chinese borders for freedom of speech and opinion in reaction to the government’s cover-ups and silencing of medics and journalists.
- Viruses can emerge everywhere. SARS-CoV-2 originated in China just like SARS (2002–2003) did, but that doesn’t mean that viral outbreaks are ›typically Chinese‹. Both the ›Spanish Flu‹ (1918–1920) as well as the ›Swine Flu‹ (2009–2010), for example, started in the US.
The risk of spillovers from animal hosts to human hosts has increased because of our wider spread and denser human population. Simply put, we’ve gotten closer to wildlife, that carries viruses potentially dangerous for humans.
- Wet markets oppose a threat because they bring wildlife even closer to the food chain. When uncontrolled, partially alive wild game is sold next to other food sources—often under unhygienic conditions—the likeliness of viruses jumping to humans increases.
China has banned the selling of wild animals for now. But they did so during the outbreak of SARS as well and the ban will likely be lifted again. There are Chinese who want this ban to be permanent. Many citizens also demand more regulations for public safety in food industries.
The wildlife trade is also linked to a huge amount of animal cruelty. That alone should be a reason to condemn it once and for all. But this isn’t a matter only occurring in China, either.
- SARS-CoV-2 didn’t appear because the Chinese are eating bats. Videos circulating the internet of Chinese citizens eating bats were not filmed in China itself, but Palau and Indonesia. There is no link to Wuhan that would justify the claim that eating bats has caused this outbreak.
So, while there is justified criticism such as regarding the wet markets, eating habits are simply different in other cultures and religions. As you know, Muslims and Jews don’t eat pork and cows are sacred in India. And remember, many deadly viruses jump to livestock before affecting humans.
- Viruses spread regardless of ethnicity and social status, it can simply infect everyone. Yes, SARS-CoV-2 originated in Wuhan, but look at the infection chains all over the world by now. The virus has spread so far, it can come from pretty much everywhere. There are hot spots, but these are regional, not ethnic. So, discriminating against Chinese, South-Koreans, Japanese, Italians, and Iranians,—or citizens of any other nation for that matter—is not only stupid but also pointless.
- Don’t worry about Chinese food and products. Virions stay on surfaces for some time, but they die before an import has reached your home. Food served in Chinese restaurants is not more or less dangerous than in other restaurants.
Instead of blindly discriminating against Chinese and others, how about we open our eyes to actual issues we should address. When it comes to China, let’s talk about human rights violations. Let’s oppose the criminalization of medics and journalists who reported on the novel coronavirus as well as the general refusal of freedom of speech and opinion. Let’s not forget the delays and cover-ups that allowed the outbreak to become so wide-spread.
Let’s ask the WHO, why it is full of glory for how well China behaves now while ignoring the other side of the truth. Then, let’s go further and speak up against concentration camps imprisoning millions of people in East Turkistan, the oppression in Tibet and Hong Kong, the way China takes more and more control over the world through its Belt and Road initiative, how almost the whole world denies the sovereignty of Taiwan, a completely independent nation, because they are afraid to stand up against China, and so on.
4. Personal hygiene and social distancing are key!
Let’s return to the novel coronavirus. Remember how viruses are transmitted: Virions (virus particles) are very small but heavy. They are not airborne and thus rely on us spreading them through droplets and contact. This is a good thing. Because even though the novel coronavirus is quite contagious, very basic measures are effective to decrease the risk of infection.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly. For proper hand washing, you need a good amount of soup and at least 20 seconds. Many say »that’s how long it takes to sing ›Happy Birthday‹ twice.« Liquid soap is somewhat safer than bars of soap when it comes to many people using them such as in public places. When using soap bars at home, make sure they can dry properly, so they don’t cultivate bacteria.
Rub your hands in soap by taking care of all these areas: palms, back of the hands, all fingers—pay attention to the easily forgotten thumbs—, between the fingers, the side of your hands, knuckles, fingertips, and fingernails, as well as wrists.
For the knuckles and fingertips, I start with a fist and wash my knuckles with my other hand. Then, I point all fingertips into the other hand’s palm and make circular movements. I also keep my nails pretty short these days.
- Disinfect your hands when you can’t wash them. Carry around an alcohol-based liquid or gel hand sanitizer to use when you can’t access a sink. Take a fair amount to disinfect all parts of your hands as mentioned above. Rub your hands until they are dry. Be aware that some disinfectants are drying out skin, so look for a dehydrating product.
Sadly, I have to add: Under no circumstances be an asshole and steal disinfectants from hospitals and doctor offices! Pardon my French, but this is happening. It is not easy to get alcohol-based sanitizers at the moment, but man, just work around that!
- Don’t touch your face. Well, that is a hard one, because we touch our faces unconsciously so many times a day. But when you put some attention on this, you will see it is getting easier over time.
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow or even better in a tissue. This limits the spreading of infections when you are sick. Discard the tissue and remember to wash your hands.
- Avoid direct contact with handrails in subways and other objects that are touched by many people. Practice a stable stand when riding trains, push buttons and switches with your elbow, open doors with your shoulder, and so on. Be resourceful! This can actually be quite some fun.
- Disinfect cellphones, glasses, and other items that get in contact with your face. Alcohol-based wipes are genius for this. But if you can’t get your hands on them, wash your glasses with water and dish detergent—drying is easy with a cotton handkerchief.
Maybe don’t use your cellphone while you can’t wash your hands. For example, you can read a good book on your way to work instead. Yes, virions can get on the book cover as well, but when was the last time you put a book on your cheek to answer a call?
- Consider carefully if you need to wear a face mask or not as I am going to explain in tip number six.
- Avoid crowded places. There are going to be more people there and you will automatically get in closer contact with others. Don’t go to big events such as conventions, sports matches, or concerts.
- Keep a distance to others of at least 1 meter or better even 2 meters.
- Commute off-peak if you can. Or take the bike or walk a bit instead of riding the train.
- Consider home-office if it is possible for your work. Ask your superiors what can be done to limit exposure for all employees.
- Think about postponing a big party or dining out in a tapas bar or izakaya with all your friends, especially when it involves vulnerable people and sharing food.
- Limit direct contact like shaking hands, hugging, kissing, and so on.
- Find the right balance that makes you happy and still has a positive effect on your community. Naturally, social distancing sucks, even for introverts. All these measures are probably impacting your professional and personal life. But they are absolutely crucial to flatten the curve. So, ask yourself what you really need and what you can easily discard for now.
5. Self-care is health-care.
Now comes a part you’ll love: Be good to yourself! When you are happy and healthy, your body is much stronger to fight infections. Take these crazy times as an opportunity to treat yourself.
- Use the time for something you never really find time for. For instance, instead of going to the soccer game that got canceled, do a home spa day or watch a good movie with a delicious home-cooked meal.
- Take the opportunity to cook healthier food as you have always wanted, but never really kept up with. Eat lots of fruits, for example, and omega-3 rich foods like salmon. If you have a deficiency in some vitamins or minerals, take supplements to have the normal levels your body needs.
- Sleep well and enough. No shortcuts. Researches show, one of the best things you can do for your immune system is sleeping. Your body recharges and is so much more ready to fight infections coming your way.
- Distract yourself from the worry times after you have done all the other things right. You know yourself best, do what makes you happy. All these sweet, silly cat or bunny videos, for example. Joke around and laugh a lot to release the tension.
- Do some acts of kindness. We are all a bit under pressure at the moment. The kindness you spread in the world comes back to you. Support a friend with some lovely messages through social media or send some postcards. I don’t really like the word ›social distancing‹ because physical distance can be compensated with other forms of social interaction.
6. To mask or not to mask?
To conclude these tips, let’s get back to the question if you should wear a mask or not. The answer depends on these aspects: Are you sick or not? Where do you live? Do you know, which mask is the right one? And how to wear it?
- Are you sick or not? If you have contracted the novel coronavirus yourself, you should definitely wear a mask. Face masks prevent the spreading of droplets and thus minimize the risk of infecting others significantly. Follow the orders of doctors, nurses, and trained personnel about how to wear your mask. If you haven’t contracted SARS-CoV-19 yourself ask yourself the following:
- Where do you live? Face masks are not particularly protecting a healthy person against infection, even though there is the benefit of touching your face less. They are good at keeping droplets from spreading, but you are still breathing in unfiltered air from the sides.
So, essentially, when wearing a mask, you are protecting others much more than yourself. Taiwan and Hong Kong are good examples of how whole societies are shielding each other and keeping the infection rate low. But if you live in a country without a general mask-wearing habit, this system isn’t going to work.
Taking into account that there is a mask shortage world-wide, I would argue the following: If you live in a country where everyone is wearing a mask now, please do your part and wear one as well. If you live in a country where it is uncommon to wear masks, please leave the limited mask supplies for those who need them first and foremost: The infected and those taking care of them.
- Which mask to wear? There are different types of face masks, which I am going to outline more detailed below. Some only filter house dust and pollen. Surgical masks or equivalent products are the ones that largely prevent infections to spread as mentioned above. And then, there are those who are worn by professionals in close contact with infected patients. These masks are airtight and regulated under ›N95‹ or ›FFP‹ standards.
In the given circumstances, the first ones are like covering your mouth with a scarf. With the third type, you could protect yourself efficiently, but they are very impractical for everyday use. They trap the body heat and are hard to breathe through. And again, these masks are needed by health care providers fighting at the frontlines of the crisis. Please be kind and not unnecessarily selfish! This leaves us in the general population with the surgical masks or equally protective ones.
Also, please be aware of fake masks and shops! It is extremely hard to find masks these days. The ones you’ll probably find are sold for disgustingly high prices. Check if shops are trustworthy before ordering. Many offers are just a scam with masks being either fake or never shipped out at all.
- When you wear a mask, use it properly!
— Wash or disinfect your hands thoroughly before putting on a mask.
— Know what is the inside and the outside, which parts point upwards and downwards. Most surgical masks have a colored side—that’s the outer layer. Logos are usually printed on the outside as well. The metal strip is to be bent and goes over your nose. The folds of a mask open downwards.
— Make the mask sit tight. The more you breathe through the mask itself and not the gaps all around it, the better. Cover both nose and mouth.
— Be aware that masks lose their effectiveness over time, especially through moisture. When a mask gets too wet inside (because of your breath), take it off and put on a new one. Don’t use masks multiple times. You can’t dry or disinfect a mask to make it re-usable. Moisture is also a breeding ground for bacteria.
— Don’t breach the thin barrier between your face and your surroundings. Avoid touching the mask itself, handle it through the straps. Imagine that there could be virus particles on the mask surface (or inside) or your hands. So, don’t just slide it down to your chin to rub your nose or so. If you need to take off your mask momentarily, wash your hands or disinfect them, then open the mask on one side by holding the strap, do whatever you intend to do, then put the mask on again. Clean your hands again.
— Use clean hands to take off your mask before discarding it. Fold it with the outside inwards, maybe fold it a couple more times. Be considerate of others and don’t leave them on restaurant tables or other public places. I put my used masks in sealable packaging such as empty mask wrappers and throw them away at home.
Quick 101 on the three types of face masks I just mentioned:
Type one can filter house dust and pollen, but no tiny particles such as mold, bacteria, or viruses. These include washable cotton masks, DIY models, one- or two-layered masks that look like surgical masks, as well as PITTA masks, which are made out of foam material. All these are cool when you are allergic or interested in a fashionable look, but that’s pretty much it.
Surgical masks and similar products are the second kinds of masks. They have three (or sometimes four) layers with different functions: The outer layer filters large particles and is water-repellent, designed to block fluids like blood and sweat from entering the mask. The inner layer absorbs moisture, meaning the wearer’s sweat as well as the droplets they breathe, sneeze, or cough out. Between those two is a layer (or more) made out of denser filter material that filters smaller particles like virions and bacteria germs out of the air. Many face masks sold in Asian stores work the same way, but be careful and check the package as some only filter dust and pollen.
Medics treating patients with viruses wear respirator masks with an N95 or FFP safety rating. These masks create a facial seal between the respirator (breathing device) and the face. They filter at least 95% of small, airborne particles—when worn correctly: Beards and gaps at the sides render respirators ineffective. Therefore, these masks need proper training to use them.
These respirators are part of the PPE (personal protective gear) of medics working on the frontlines against a virus. ›N95‹ is an American standard so named because their microfibres block at least 95% of small, airborne particles. ›FFP‹ is the European standard and short for ›Filtering Face Piece‹. FFP masks come in three levels of filter grade with ›FFP-1‹ offering the least protection and ›FFP-3‹ the most. FFP-2 is the equivalent of N95 and are used by medical staff.
That’s all a lot at once. But keeping the key measures in mind will quickly become routine, believe me.
Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other! We can face the novel coronavirus pandemic together!