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To the Editor:

By now, everyone has heard of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. People are facing this new respiratory virus with an attitude ranging from brushing it off as nothing more than a mild flu to apocalyptic-style toilet paper buying. This subject has been especially interesting to me as a registered nurse, member of the Hopewell Township Advisory Board of Health, and author of a post-apocalyptic adventure book. I have followed this story closely, day-by-day, and would like to share my insights with my neighbors here on MercerMe. 

Despite some people brushing off this impending pandemic, COVID-19 is a serious concern. Based on the latest numbers as of March 9, 2020, the running morality rate is about 3.5 percent. Compare that with the flu’s annual morality rate of 0.1 percent. Also, about 15-20 percent of patient need intensive care. Many have speculated that the mortality rate will drop as more, mild cases become known. The raw numbers, however, have yet to support that theory. In fact, the morality rate projection is on the rise. Older people and those with chronic health conditions are at highest risk. Although COVID-19 has often been associated with a “cold” because coronaviruses typically cause cold symptoms, the primary symptom of this particular virus is fever, with over 99 percent of those infected reporting fever as the predominant symptom. This number is based on a study by Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China. Dry cough is another symptom identified, and can develop into the most worrisome symptom: shortness of breath.

It’s true that influenza is responsible for more deaths than COVID-19, but the difference is that flu is already a ubiquitous disease and COVID-19 is still in its infancy, but spreading fast. Indeed, based on the growing number of cases and anecdotal reports of one person infecting several, the virus appears to be quite contagious. Thus, community leaders and members should take this disease seriously and act swiftly and decisively to slow its spread. The global spread of this disease may be inevitable, but slowing its infectious impact will allow our health care system to cope. Some have suggested that we just let everyone get the virus and get it over with – the worst idea ever, by the way. Anyone who has spent hours in an emergency room waiting area only to spend another several hours on a gurney in the hallway knows that our health care system is already overwhelmed. A sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of seriously ill patients will not only cause an increase in morbidity and mortality from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well. 

What can we do? Schools should promote strong hand hygiene and allow extra time for students to wash their hands before and after snack and lunch times. These are the times when students are most likely to touch their mouth, nose, and face (the “T-Zone”). This should be encouraged as a group with all students participating. Desks, tables, gym mats, busses and other commonly-touched areas should be thoroughly disinfected. With respect to seniors and people with chronic medical conditions, community members should offer to bring them food and supplies so that they can limit their exposure to crowds until COVID-19 activity declines. Those who assist in this way should wash or sanitize hands thoroughly before entering the vulnerable person’s home and wear mask (if you can find one). Children and adults who develop a fever should contact their health care provider and self-isolate until the cause of the fever can be determined. This is true even if the person has no other symptoms. 

We should remain vigilant and watch this disease closely. Staying ahead of it and slowing its spread through smart planning and good infection control measures will prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed while buying us time to research and, hopefully, develop a treatment or vaccine. 

Michael Coco, RN, Esq.,

Hopewell Township

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