Practice social distancing because the lives of your health care workers matter

I was in medical school when the world saw the news of the Zika and Ebola viruses, but never have I seen mass hysteria to this level for COVID-19. No longer is coronavirus what is depicted in a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, where it says coronavirus is a cause for the common cold. Intense coverage of the virus has been sensationalized to the point where you cannot be in any public or private place without hearing “coronavirus” uttered.

Moreover, what is not talked about is the high-risk health care workers take in caring for COVID-19 patients. Back then, and what the news is not reporting, is that COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus outbreak. It is, in fact, the third. There was SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012, where nosocomial transmission affected thousands of frontline health care workers. As of right now, COVID-19 is not a hospital-based outbreak like SARS and MERS, but because it is a novel coronavirus and bears similarities to SARS and MERS, the risk for hospital outbreaks still exists. What we do know is that COVID-19 is the ease of spread and that symptoms are nonspecific. If we do not remain vigilant and exercise precautionary measures like social distancing and limiting non-essential travel, then we risk the health of frontline hospitalists, and the spread of the virus will escalate in response.

As a medical student, I understand the necessity of staying calm in the face of an emergency, as do my peers and colleagues. A few weeks ago, a health care worker in Houston caused widespread hysteria that a hospital was caring for a coronavirus patient by posting to social media, which led to people posting on Twitter and thousands of people sharing the Tweets. That hospital’s administration then promptly responded categorically that this was a false rumor and cautioned the use of social media in stirring hysteria and panic.

What’s even more incredulous is thousands of people choosing not to practice patience and to stay calm during these times. Calling for barbershops and saloons to reopen to get haircuts. Flocking state parks and beaches. Organizing protests to reopen the economy. Endangering the lives of others seems to be a popular new hobby, and it scares me that we’ll see second waves of the virus in places where people purposefully choose not to practice social distancing.

It is thus up to our health care providers with influence, like Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Leana Wen, Dr. Deborah Birx, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, to educate as many people as possible on the necessary steps that each person can take to help in this effort against the spread of COVID-19. It is also, unfortunately, up to medical professionals to dispel false claims perpetuated by the Trump administration. Action without education and choosing to not understand why we do things will lead to wasted time, resources, and ultimately leaving thousands of more people infected and dead.

Yes, COVID-19 is scary, but it’s not the end of human life. Did you know that over 18,000 Americans died of the flu this season? Now is not the time to press the panic button. COVID-19, like many others, including influenza viruses, is a contagious respiratory virus, and because the world has not been exposed to this virus before, we do have the immunity to fight it off. If we follow CDC guidelines and guidance from our local governments, we will make it to the end of this pandemic.

Overall, the public is looking to the medical profession for guidance, so let’s take on that responsibility and educate the masses on the following:

  • You can be completely asymptomatic (showing no symptoms of COVID-19) and still spread the virus to those around you. If you infect one person, that person can infect two more people, and so and so forth. That’s why New York and several big cities got slammed with cases. In short, practice social distancing!
  • Wash your hands frequently when you are out in public and do the same when you return home. Remind others to do the same as this is the easiest thing everyone can do.
  • Buying bottles of hand sanitizer provides a false sense of security and is not a substitute for traditional soap & water handwashing.
  • Are you feeling sick? Don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Go see a doctor.
  • Cover your coughs and sneeze into your elbow/tissue and not into your hand.
  • Clean often touched surfaces (doorknobs, desks, locks, etc.) with some sort of disinfectant because virus-containing droplets from coughs or sneezes can land on these surfaces (Viruses are spread in more ways than just in the air.) And don’t drink disinfectant, there’s no logic in doing that.
  • Personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, is for health care workers and not for the general public. Moreover, N95 masks are to be used only for true airborne droplet precautions, and to be effective, you must be fit-tested for them. Lastly, people do not know how to put on and take off the masks properly, which is more of a problem than a solution.
  • There is no vaccine as of now, but get the vaccine once it becomes available.
  • Try to understand the virus rather than feeding into the hysteria.

Ton La, Jr. is a medical student, can be reached on LinkedIn, and is affiliated with

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