Control the Spread and the Panic

Keesler personnel fill the Commissary at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, March 2020. 

Photo courtesy Kemberly Groue

by Kevin Hartung

Worldwide, officials are scrambling to control the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) but maybe controlling the panic is equally important

President Donald Trump, who had contact with coronavirus subjects, was tested and received negative results.

To date, at least 30 countries have been banned from U.S. travel.  

The economic fallout from the panic was instantaneous, with the stock market hitting another all-time low on March 14. Experts predict economic fallout from the coronavirus scare will be long-lasting.

According to a March 17 article on the FiveThirtyEight website, five states have postponed their presidential primaries due to the coronavirus. States postponing their primaries were Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland. Other states are considering following suit. 

Two states modified their primaries. Arizona consolidated polling places to its largest county, Maricopa, and Florida has moved polling places located near nursing homes.

According to a March 18 article, both the House and Senate have  passed a coronavirus economic relief bill to support families and hourly wage earners through the crisis. 

The bill offers paid leave to those dealing with the virus and those with family members suffering from the virus. The bill also supports free testing for those with symptoms of the flu and a doctor’s recommendation for testing.

Further, the bill provides unemployment insurance for employees of those businesses that have closed due to lack of customers or as a safety measure against spread of the virus. 

Since community spread plays a large part, communities are using bans on events of over 10 participants, sports events, concerts, street fairs and most events attracting large crowds.

Communities have also passed shelter-in-place curfews and social distancing measures to prevent community spread. The shelter-in-place curfew carries a misdemeanor charge if broken.

Along with community bans, several businesses and stores have self-imposed closings or limited their hours of operation. 

Store closings and a change in hours were precipitated by a scarcity of products as consumers rushed out to do panic shopping. This panic shopping has caused rationing on products like hand sanitizers, bleach, paper towels and, of all things, toilet paper.

Locally, homeless shelters and food banks are experiencing a shortage of volunteers. An article in the Arizona Daily Star describes their plight.

“But the most immediate problem is the sudden loss of volunteers, some of whom have been told to stay away because of their age or other factors. Many of these volunteers are seniors, so they’re legitimately concerned for all the reasons that you know.”

Among those taking responsibility toward controlling the spread of the virus are churches that have canceled services and state governments that have closed public schools until further notice. 

Many already know that Pima Community College has suspended in-house classes. In a March 19 email Pima spokeswoman Libby Howell provided an update. 

“College leadership and faculty are working hard to convert as many classes as possible to online or virtual delivery methods, so students in those classes will certainly earn their spring credits,” she said. “Faculty will be communicating soon about their class specifics, so students should be sure to watch your Pima emails.  However, some classes don’t readily lend themselves to a virtual delivery method, and others are required to be face to face by an external accrediting body, so we continue to work to find solutions for those courses. Stay tuned for details; COVID-19 and its impact is an ever-changing situation.”

The media could have played a role in spreading panic by constant streaming of “updates,” and it has not helped in controlling the pandemonium that erupted.

Each new case was emphasized and “hot spots” were identified.  Little attention was paid to the similarity between coronavirus and the flu and the fact that the deaths that occurred at first as a result of the virus were mainly in the only at-risk group identified — the elderly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that although anxiety and fear are a natural part of a pandemic, managing fear and anxiety are important, especially for those particularly vulnerable to messages about protecting yourself.  

For example, a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder might be especially susceptible to the caution for washing your hands frequently.

WHO has offered some tips on protecting your mental health during this coronavirus media hype. 

The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about outbreaks can cause anyone to worry. WHO has warned people to refrain from social media sites where misinformation and false stories abound.

Instead of social media, look for reliable sources like WHO and the Center for Disease Control.

Recommendations include avoiding watching, listening, or reading news that could cause you anxiety or distress. Seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times only once or twice a day to avoid overload. 

According to the CDC, information about COVID-19 is continuing to evolve. Experts are taking steps to address COVID-19 and reduce infections, and the outbreak in China has slowed with a drop in new cases reported daily. 

What does appear abundantly clear is that when fear sets in, the effects are multiplied and exponentially increased by public panic. More responsible reporting and clearer information about contacting and treatment of the disease need to be disseminated by a responsible media and official agencies.  

According to an article in the New York Times on Feb. 20: “And so based on what we know so far, COVID-19 seems to be much less fatal than other coronavirus infections and diseases that turned into major epidemics in recent decades. The operative words here are “based on what we know so far — meaning, both no more and no less than that, and also that our take on the situation might need to change as more data come in.”

It should be obvious from historical similarities that controlled panic is what is needed here. The public needs to be forewarned but causing panic and creating havoc like rationing products that cause angry shoppers to react is something we do not need.

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