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Submitted by Heidi Wilcox, M.Sc., owner of WILCOX EVS Solutions

Like everyone else in the world, I have been following the media coverage of the coronavirus. Coronavirus is disturbing — with the quarantines, the spread and the deaths — but we need to keep perspective now. As a microbiologist, when things like this happen, I read all the media, all the scientific conversations and the more in-depth commentary in the scientific community and try to help the general public understand what they are seeing and should do. 

I want to make this point up front: The United States has only had 15 cases of coronavirus to date. Europe has had one death, at the time I wrote this piece on Monday. In Asia and other places, there have been approximately 73,000 cases and about two percent of those have culminated in death. 

Where the infection is concentrated — like China — it is spreading fast and that is to be expected when the incubation period is up to 10 days and the virus can live on surfaces for up to nine days. This means anyone exposed to the virus, if not kept quarantined, can walk about spreading the virus for a long time not knowing they have it. 

So, for people in the U.S. and other countries that have not had many coronavirus cases, I have the following advice:

1. Do not travel to China or anywhere that an outbreak is present. 

2. Do not go near anyone that has traveled to the infected areas for at least 10 days.

3. Follow general hygiene and public health processes such as sneezing into your elbow, using hand sanitizer and washing your hands. Don’t go within four to six feet of anyone visibly sick if you can help it.

In the U.S., the concern is still the flu and cold season, norovirus and other infectious diseases that attack us on a daily basis.

Flu season typically starts around November and ends sometime in April — so about half the year. There are generally two outbreak spikes a season and generally two types of flu that come around: Influenza A and B. This year we started with the B strain, which is unusual. And there have been an above average number of pediatric deaths this year, with over 100. 

The US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been 29 million people that have become ill with the flu this year, leading to 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths. This is over eight times the deaths than the new coronavirus has caused to-date and over 330 times the number of cases in general. We are seeing a rise in Influenza A cases and they are approximately equal now to Influenza B cases.

As of the time of this writing, some facts about the coronavirus are:

1. There have been more than 76,936 infections reported with 2,442 deaths. That is about a three percent mortality rate.

2. South Korea has 602 infected people and three to five deaths, which is less than a one percent mortality rate.

3. Iran and the Middle East are seeing a rise in cases due to travelers from other countries who have been exposed.

4. When the CDC declared a state of emergency regarding the coronavirus, it was about getting funds for quarantine and research, not about deaths or cases.

The U.S. and other countries are declaring travel warnings to all countries with outbreaks and continual spread of the virus due to the close proximity of humans. There is also a quarantine of up to 10 days for anyone trying to travel back into the U.S. from countries of concern. This will help decrease the spread of the virus in the U.S. 

Spread of the coronavirus is much like the flu or other pathogens we deal with each year. It is spread by droplets in air, picking it up off hard surfaces and touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth, as well as sharing the same cup, utensils or plate as an infected person or coming into close contact with someone sick who can breathe, cough or kiss you. If someone has no symptoms yet, they can still spread the virus. 

So, let common sense prevail, stay calm and carry on.