Friday, September 11, 2020

Battling the Invisible Velociraptor: Covid-19 Risk Management

Covid-19! More Dangerous Than a Velociraptor Attack!
(mostly because humans and velociraptors never co-existed!)

For more than six months we've all been living in a world which has added a pandemic crisis on top of all the challenges we face as a species and as individuals already. In that time we've been inundated with pandemic information and precautions, so much so that too many of us have become desensitized to the risk and perhaps a little lazy at adjusting our behavior to match the risk in our personal sphere. To that end, I summarize here the latest pandemic situation and aggregate some best practices to help us as individuals, families and communities set a consistent routine to follow to minimize Covid-19 risk and limit its spread.

In the United States nearly 200,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths (that's more than 300 times the number of fatalities from the 9/11 attacks) and 2.5 million confirmed infections. The SARS-CoV-2 is the actual name of the novel corona virus that causes the Covid-19 illness. In actuality, the infections are likely 2 to 3 times greater than observed given asymptomatic and less severe cases that are not reported. As a nation we have failed to contain the virus as yet and until we get an effective vaccine adequately distributed our country could continue for years to be in a pandemic, the state where a pathogen and its effects remain widespread and prevalent.

It's worth emphasizing that the SARS-CoV-2 is an invisible killer; the virus is resulting in the death of about 1 in every 1000 Americans, when averaged out over a full year. Older people, especially those with prior immune and respiratory conditions are at greater risk of fatality. Eight of ten deaths to date have been people 65 and over, but importantly as cited by "for everybody over about 40 [Covid-19] is significantly deadlier than anything else they’re likely to encounter during the course of a normal year."  Add into that secondary long-term effects that we don't fully understand yet for anyone infected. Harrowing as it may be we cannot ignore the serious problem at hand.

Some treatments are helping reduce the fatality percentage, but avoiding infection remains the primary response ongoing that we as individuals can daily perform until an effective vaccine has been distributed as wide as possible, a feat put in question by anti-vaccine sentiments. With these dangers in mind, I've put together several easy steps to follow to keep the risk fresh in our minds. The appropriate action subsequently can made on a daily basis to best safeguard our lives and the lives of others.

1. Each morning, remind yourself how dangerous the ongoing pandemic is. With nearly 1000 people dying on average daily in the US the danger is deadly real. If vicious dinosaurs were out killing that many people each day we could more easily see the carnage, but because the virus is microscopic and because most of us are distanced from those who suffer an often slow death, we understandably miscalculate the danger.  Nevertheless, this morning moment isn't a call for paranoia, but instead a time to breathe in deep ones resolve so as to make a mindful assessment of the viral danger to maximize personal and global safety.

2. Check you and your household for infection. Assess how you feel, ideally taking each household member's temperature as one objective measure. Coughing, headache, loss of taste, and other flu-like systems can be indications that you've contracted Covid-19. If you have symptoms call your doctor to obtain professional advice. Testing is free through CVS and Walgreens drive-thru windows. Check more detailed testing options at the CDC website here. Recognize a person can remain contagious for two weeks after showing symptoms.

3. Consult your current local infection data. Choose an evidence-backed website that aggregates the current local danger. Covid ActNow is a great one. Here you can drill down to your local county to review the level of outbreak danger in your state, your county and surrounding counties. Peruse the trends in per capita cases, infection rate, positive test rate and ICU availability, but primarily determine the current color risk level, so you can shift your daily routine to compensate.

4. Determine your active response level for the day. Here are my suggested best practices aggregated from evidence based sources. (colors correlated to Covid ActNow risk levels)

Risk Level RED: The danger of outbreak is at its highest. If at all possible, stay isolated at home, exposing yourself only to those in your immediate household. Rely on your supply inventory or, if necessary, remotely order supplies, taking especial care to distance entirely from delivery persons and to reasonably disinfect packaging. The primary mode of corona virus infection occurs via air-borne droplets; still disinfecting surfaces and washing hands thoroughly are excellent precautions. If an emergency or other situation demands you leave your household, wear a mask and stay 6 feet or more away from others, especially those people who remain unmasked. Enjoy an adventure novel, cook a new recipe or play a board game with your family at home to lesson anxiety.

Risk Level ORANGE: The danger of outbreak remains high. Operate as if at the Red Level if possible. If work or school attendance is necessary be especially vigilant with social distancing; otherwise, limit your exposure to others as much as you can. Wearing a mask that fully covers your mouth AND nose significantly reduces your chances of spreading the virus. Stay distant from those not wearing masks, and those not wearing them properly. Thorough hand sanitizing after touching public surface will reduce your chances of catching the virus as well. Keep a bottle of 60% + alcohol sanitizer handy for quick hand disinfection. Enjoy a walk away from people in a park or a scenic drive to reduce pandemic stress.

Risk Level YELLOW: Virus spreading is at reduced risk. Your community is doing well if it maintains this status. Interacting with others at work and school may be at lower risk, though staying masked is highly recommended, perhaps with the exception of those in your extended household, so long as they have not had public exposure themselves. There is still a chance of transmission, so consider socializing with others while observing social distancing. Perhaps, play a game of tennis or golf with friends, staying at least six feet apart at all times if you choose to go unmasked.

Risk Level GREEN: This is NOT back to normal. A low virus risk is still present; still your community is doing a great job if it attains this level. Observe YELLOW protocols for the most part, but you can consider participating in small group activities with others that are from YELLOW and GREEN regions. Eating unmasked together with those in your inner circle is moderately safe, and occasionally visiting eating establishments that are not crowded may be an activity to add to your repertoire, though it will increase your risk.

Risk Level BLUE: This is as nearly back to normal status as we can expect. Sadly this virus may never fully go away. Still, if you and your surrounding community have been adequately vaccinated (60% or more of the population) with a CDC approved vaccine then there's a good chance the virus spread has been sufficiently suppressed. Of course, as of this writing no approved vaccine exists, so you simply should NOT consider things back to normal until well after that time.

5. Stick to the protocol. As humans we can naturally tend toward irrational behavior if we don't directly sense a danger. By adhering to these simple steps daily, you will not only reduce your chances of catching the virus; you will also increase the effectiveness of your community, country and world in containing this dangerous pathogen. Be accountable for your actions so we all can maximize our survival rate.

6. Enjoy and be productive in your daily life. Once you have your personal COVID response protocol on automatic you'll be much better equipped to focus on your workday and on the amazing things still at our fingertips to continue enjoy a productive life. To that end, share these protective guidelines with a positive energy and spread the meme that we will get through this together.

I believe I've done a good job here sticking to a rationale that relies on evidence-based science. If you find your community or news source significantly pressuring you to vary from such a mindset, review multiple sources for evidence based information? Never rely on one source; research specifics at reputable disease control sites like the CDC, John Hopkins Hospital, and the WHO, and high quality journalism sources like NPR, BBC and The Economist.

Beyond the daily fight against the corona virus, consider supporting a robust proactive stance that will prevent and prepare for the next pandemic. Funding science research and evidence based policy via the CDC, WHO, and elsewhere will develop the best future response safeguards. Additionally, help reduce (and when possible eliminate) animal husbandry and human interaction with wildlife; this humane pursuit not only reduces animal abuse but also can significantly reduce the chances of breeding zoonotic pathogens in the first place before they jump to humans. Finally, supporting evidence-based, egalitarian (i.e. public), science and critical-thinking education will provide coming generations with a mental toolset to become motivated and ever more effective stewards, working to build and maintain an every healthier planet.

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