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In Our Words: What you need to know about COVID-19

Well, I guess we’ve got to talk about coronavirus. Fun topic. So hot right now. Let’s go over the straight facts about it and save the opinions for another day, shall we? First off, the name.

Well, I guess we’ve got to talk about coronavirus. Fun topic. So hot right now. Let’s go over the straight facts about it and save the opinions for another day, shall we?

First off, the name. Coronavirus and COVID-19 are both used to describe the same illness, but they’re not the same thing. Coronavirus is the virus and COVID-19 is the illness it creates. Think of it like HIV and AIDS, not in severity but in relationship – one is the virus, the other is the disease the virus causes.

Coronaviruses are most often found only in birds and other mammals, but they can also migrate to humans. We don’t always know how or why – we don’t know yet with COVID-19, for instance – but they do. They can cause disease, usually mild respiratory illnesses, sometimes types of the common cold, sometimes more dangerous.

Remember the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) panic in 2002 and 2003? That came from a coronavirus. Same with the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was a thing in 2012.

Just shy of 10 per cent of people who got SARS died from it. MERS was more deadly – about 36 per cent. Globally, about 3.4 per cent of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have died from it. Compared to other viral panics like it, COVID-19 is relatively – relatively – minor.

The common flu, on the other hand, kills only about .1 per cent of people who get it. Let’s not believe COVID-19 is harmless. It’s not a global menace that’s for sure going to kill your whole block tomorrow, but it’s not totally docile.

The danger about COVID-19 is that its novel – it’s the first time this strain has jumped to infect people, therefore we don’t have any existing cures for it and won’t for at least a little while until after clinical trials. It spreads very quickly.

The first diagnosis of the disease was caught Dec. 1 in China. Since then, there’s been more than 125,000 cases around the world. It has hit 110 countries and killed at least 4,600 people, according to resources from Johns Hopkins University. About three-quarters of those cases have been in China.

For convenience, for the rest of this, I’ll be calling the illness we’re seeing right now COVID-19. By the way, in case you’re wondering why we’re calling it that, COVID-19 just stands for “coronavirus disease 2019”. It’s nothing too fancy. The more you know.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. What I want is for correct information to get out fast. I happen to know a few medical experts and I spoke with them before publishing this - I’m just quoting people who are smarter than me.

Listen to medical experts – actual medical experts. Your Auntie Darlene who sells those weird mail-order lipsticks is not an actual medical expert. She may be sweet and bake you cookies when you come by, but she is not a doctor.

COVID-19 has nothing to do with Corona beer. Do what you will with that info.

Recognize the symptoms. Often, COVID-19 symptoms include pneumonia, coughing, breathing problems and fever. If it gets really advanced, your organs can start to fail. It can cause sepsis and respiratory failure in later stages.

The tricky thing about COVID-19 is that it can also be completely asymptomatic. Not only that, but not everybody has the same symptoms. Fever seems to be the most common symptom, but other, stranger ones, including muscle and joint pain, pneumonia, headaches, chills and diarrhea can happen too. Most treatment of COVID-19 is about treating the symptoms – often times, that’s enough.

Wash your damn hands. Scrub hard. If you can, invest in a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it. Try to avoid touching your face if you can, since that’s a way germs can get from your grubby little hands to more sensitive spots. These are some of the most effective ways to stop COVID-19 from spreading. Ounce of prevention, pound of cure.

Know where to go for up-to-date information. I won’t lie to you – we, a small weekly newspaper, may not be the best source for up-to-date information across a country of 35 million-ish people. We’re going to try our best, but if you want up to date information, check out the websites for the Public Health Agency of Canada, Manitoba Health or the Northern Health Region. The Public Health Agency of Canada has a rather helpful case tracker that updates regularly and shares how many cases there are in Canada and where cases have been found.

For instance, as of March 11, there are 103 total cases of COVID-19 in Canada, in four provinces. Ontario and B.C. have the most cases. Quebec has a few, as do Alberta and New Brunswick. One Canadian has died.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan both reported their first confirmed cases March 12, but the nearest confirmed case to Flin Flon, for now, is in Saskatoon.

Most of the afflicted people in Canada – about three-quarters – are over age 40. Millennials and us Gen-Zers can still get sick, but we have lower rates. Being young can be nice.

A huge chunk of people affected in Canada, almost 80 per cent, have just got back from travelling abroad. Be careful to monitor yourself after any big trips and know the signs.

If you feel sick, stay at home. If your boss or company gets mad, tell them you’re doing them a favour by not getting your whole office sick. If they don’t understand, find a job with a better boss.

Your flu shot will not cover COVID-19. Getting the flu shot keeps you from getting common strains of the flu and I’d highly suggest you get one when offered, but it won’t help you with COVID-19.

Cancelling major sports events in hard-hit areas is a smart idea. The numbers of people involved with professional sports and their frequency of travel can be dangerous for spreading this.

Stop buying all the damn toilet paper. How did that become a thing? Butt problems are only reported in about four per cent of all COVID-19 cases. If you’ve got the runs, you ought to blame other things first.

Also, pace yourself with buying hand sanitizer. That’s a more important item that stores are starting to sell out of. You don’t need 30 bottles right now. Start with one and save some for everyone else. I don’t know what’s more concerning – that people panic bought all the hand sanitizer and soap they could, or that all these people apparently weren’t buying hand sanitizer and soap before.

Be cognizant that some people, maybe even you, will freak out and begin to think they have an illness even if they don’t. You can trick yourself into thinking you show all the signs. The last thing hospitals need right now is a bunch of healthy people who have convinced themselves they’re sick.

There is every chance you may come in contact with COVID-19 at some point in the future. Protecting yourself is easy enough. Wash things.

Ever hear about something called an epidemic curve? I hadn’t either until this week.

It’s been explained to me like this: if the number of cases spikes all at once, our health care system will be overwhelmed. Think of a hundred sick people all going to our local ER at once. Seems like pandemonium, doesn’t it?

If the disease spreads slower – which we can help by doing the basic things we talked about before – we can manage resources, take better care of more vulnerable people and not overburden an already pretty burdened system. If there’s only a few people at the ER, the people who are really sick can get higher quality care.

I can’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but we can do things to make us all feel better. Leave the worrying to the professionals, trust their ability to do their jobs, monitor your own health, make sure you do the little things right and don’t post non-fact-checked crap online.

If you have questions, don’t contact me – I’m an idiot and probably busy. Check out the places I listed earlier or call Health Links-Info Santé at 1-888-315-9257 or 204-788-8200. It’s a Manitoba-run health information line that’s staffed day and night. I might not be qualified to help you out, but thankfully, they are.