Preventing the coronavirus (COVID-19)

“While we currently have no cases of coronavirus in Arkansas, the university is reviewing Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and planning for any needed response to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. We are sanitizing classroom and public spaces beyond our normal cleaning procedures and also are considering options for alternate class delivery should that become necessary.”

—Ms. Elaine Kneebone, J.D., Acting President, Henderson State University

Everybody’s talking about the new coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a type of coronavirus that has never been seen in humans before. COVID-19 is much more serious than the coronavirus that causes the common cold. This novel coronavirus causes respiratory illness, and it comes from the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). 

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is a serious threat to public health. Your risk of catching this illness depends on your exposure to the virus. Generally speaking, the immediate health risk of COVID-19 is low at this time, but this could all change as the illness spreads and more people are infected.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. The virus is spread mainly through close contact with an infected person. It spreads in the air, through droplets from coughs and sneezes. The droplets can stay suspended in the air for quite some time and can land anywhere. Be especially cautious about touching surfaces touched by others in crowded public spaces.

Here are some more precautions you should take. Avoid people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. If you are sick, stay home and stay away from others. Cover your sneezes and coughs with tissues or your arm or sleeve. Throw away tissues in the trash. Keep surfaces clean using disinfecting wipes. Before you travel, check the CDC advisories prior to finalizing your plans. If you develop symptoms of cough, fever, or shortness of breath, please call your healthcare provider before visiting the facility. Tell them about your symptoms and any recent travel.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and there is no specific therapy. But scientists at multiple organizations—including the National Institutes of Health—are now working to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Because this will take time, it is crucial to limit the spread of infection through quarantine of infected individuals and through tracing their contacts. Preventing and containing this disease is vital. 

The reported death toll from COVID-19 has already surpassed that of the deadly SARS outbreak nearly 20 years ago. However, the actual number of deaths could be higher than the reported number. Worldwide, there are now numerous confirmed cases of coronavirus in people who have not been to China or had any contact with people from China. Victims are both male and female, and of all ages (including newborns). 

Scientists expect these types of outbreaks to occur at irregular intervals in the foreseeable future. This means that in order to prevent pandemics, we must improve monitoring by healthcare professionals of humans worldwide. Moreover, we must allocate funding to allow scientists to detect and to evaluate potential threats from viruses. To this end, global cooperation will be needed to develop new vaccine approaches that will be deployed immediately upon the outbreak of any new virus. Currently however, our global measures are not only uncoordinated, they are also mostly reactive, in that research and development are only started after an outbreak. Instead of this, we need a more proactive approach supported by adequate and continuous funding.