To the Editor:
We’re accustomed to taking risks. Every time we step into a car something bad could happen. But the odds are low and, if we drive carefully, we can minimize risk. Dealing with coronavirus is a lot like that. The stakes are high, the odds seem low, but the only way to protect ourselves in this case, is to avoid all contact with the disease. The trouble is, we can’t possibly know who is carrying it. Some victims have no symptoms, and others have light symptoms but choose to ignore them.
We could immediately reduce the spread if everyone who has viral symptoms will isolate themselves for 14 days. The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, breathing difficulties and, sometimes an early loss of smell and taste. As a minimum, everyone should take their temperature every day, and if over 100F consult a doctor and, if possible, get tested.
“Stay at home” orders are not enough if you have symptoms. Solitary confinement is required. Nearly all infections are from airborne viral particles — only 6% comes from contaminated surfaces. Airborne particles come from more than sneezes or coughs. Just talking face to face for 5 minutes could spread an infection. Louder talking in a group and singing publicly would spread more. The threat of exposure in an interior space is far greater than in the outdoors where the particles disperse more quickly.
Back to the asymptomatic group, perhaps 40% of all infections, testing won’t do it. Tests are good, but in the short term there is no way that everyone can be tested. Even if they could, if you test OK today, you might not be tomorrow.
Right now, the only feasible way to slow the spread from asymptomatic victims is for everyone to wear a mask in public. Masks will capture most of the viral particles being exhaled by an infected person. They also help to discourage healthy persons from touching their face. Masks aren’t perfect, but they are available now and can make a big difference.
Acceptance of mask requirements will be difficult because many think it’s an invasion of freedom and inconvenient. But our only other option, social distancing, isn’t always possible.
Until there is a vaccine, our best hope to stop the virus is to isolate sick people, wear masks in public spaces and practice good hygiene.