Caution, not fear should lead COVID-19 response

It seems these days the only thing to talk about is the coronavirus. As of this writing, events around the United States have been canceled. To some, this may seem like a gross overreaction.

I was one of the first to lament the cancellation of NCAA basketball tournaments. However, I have since thought things through and realize that cancellations are not necessarily for the protection of the attendees, but the protection of the healthcare system in the United States. COVID-19 is not a more severe virus than the flu, or some other outbreak. But our healthcare system is not well-equipped to handle it right now. 

If there was a pandemic outbreak in the United States, it would overwhelm hospitals and other healthcare providers. 

We will not eradicate COVID-19 through the efforts taking place over the past week. We will, however, slow down the spread to where our healthcare system can hopefully handle the outbreak.

A mass, nationwide infection would cause emergency rooms to be full to overflowing. Other primary care facilities would be overwhelmed as well. 

Gone are the days where people wait to make sure they are “sick sick” before going to a healthcare provider. The first fever or other symptom means a trip to a doctor.

Slowing down the spread of COVID-19, in this light, makes a great deal of sense.

Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this action is widespread overreaction and panic. People have rushed to the stores and bought out essentials for fear of quarantine, much like when a natural disaster happens or severe weather is forecast. 

Fear-based decision making is dangerous. It is why Franklin Delano Roosevelt said during his first inauguration, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

COVID-19 will have a greater effect on the very young, the elderly and those with underlying health problems — much like influenza. It is important to be healthy.

So what should we do? First, we should ftthe proactive steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect the health of ourselves and those around us, including:

  • Staying home if you are sick.
  • Covering your cough.
  • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoiding close contact (within six feet) with those who are sick.

Second, we should not panic. We should be vigilant, but not fearful. Decisions based on fear are more often than not, the wrong decisions.

Third, we should cautiously get on with our lives. The last thing we want to do is collapse our economy. Caution does not equate inactive.

Eventually, COVID-19 will run its course and things will hopefully return to normal. But, there will always be another potential crisis on the horizon. Let’s learn from this one and not overreact during the next.