The world is currently fighting a seemingly un-winnable war against novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, and the best chance we have to stop its spread is to isolate as much as possible. As health care workers around the world fight to save the most critical victims of the respiratory virus, certain hard hit areas, such as Italy, find themselves unable to handle the influx of cases, running out of critical, life-saving resources like breathing ventilators, and even hospital beds. In the United States, measures such as closures of bars, restaurants and even state and city-wide lockdowns have been made in order to slow down the spread and give hospitals a fighting chance. The best thing citizens can do is to take these new ordinances seriously.
“Respiratory viruses like COVID-19 need to travel from human to human in respiratory droplets or via touching droplets on fomites (door handles, etc) and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth,” says Dr. Wendy Schluchter, chair of UNO’s Department of Biological Sciences, and professor of virology. “Therefore, if you cut off contact between humans, you prevent the virus from being transmitted.”
This cutting off of contact has been referred to as social distancing, a term which Schluchter defines as “keeping at least 6 feet between you and the next person to cut down on the likelihood that a sneeze or a cough will transmit the virus.” Although the virus is frequently transmitted through this close contact, it can also be spread through shared contact on an infected surface. Because the virus can live for an extended period of time on these surfaces, it is important to wash your hands frequently.
While the idea of maintaining as much distance as possible is common sense for anyone who is experiencing symptoms, it is also critical that people practice social distancing even if they are completely asymptomatic, as they can still be carriers of the virus. Even if you are confident that you would survive the virus, it is important not to spread it to someone who wouldn’t.
“[Social distancing is] being done to avoid overtopping our hospital system’s care capacity for the 10-15% of people who get this and require hospitalization, most often older people with underlying conditions” says Schluchter, describing the idea of slowing down the infection rate of Covid-19, or “flattening the curve.” “In a recent study of a small town in Italy, social distancing and testing/isolation worked. South Korea started doing school closures and social distancing as soon as the first cases were reported and they combined this with widespread testing and isolation of infected individuals. We must do this because you see what happens when we don’t: Italy has had a great epidemic spread of this virus and now their health care capacity is overrun without enough protective gear for health care workers and not enough ventilators to help very ill patients. So, doctors are having to make war-type triage decisions on who should get a ventilator and who will not (and therefore who is likely to die).”
For a country as sprawling as the United States it is unclear how long this social distancing must continue, or even how long it will be until we can see an effect. This unknown can be scary, especially when combined with the fear-inducing aspects of what we do know. As crucial as it is to stay physically distinct right now, it is also important to find ways to stay connected so that individuals can continue to safely isolate as long as is necessary.
“[Staying connected is] super important because psychological research studies have been telling us over and over again that there are multiple benefits of having and maintaining social connections,” says Dr. Rosamond Myers, Director of UNO’s Counseling Services. “These include improving a person’s physical health, psychological well being, happiness level, self esteem and sense of confidence. People who feel more connected to others have been found to have lower levels of depression and anxiety and higher levels of empathy. Social connections have also been found to decrease stress, risk of suicide and to increase longevity.”
To stay connected in the midst of social distancing Myers recommends things such as Facetime, Skype, talking on the phone or even writing letters. Myers also recommends using the increased free time wisely, by engaging in hobbies, spending time outside ( but maintaining the six feet of space) or even getting into exercise. The time can also be used to develop coping strategies that can help lessen the strain of isolation, such as reaching out to family and friends or creating a gratitude journal.
Of course, no matter how many coping strategies students develop, it is still normal to feel panicked in a situation like this one. With news constantly shifting, it can feel as if it is impossible to stay on top of this situation. But in order to keep yourself mentally healthy, it is best to limit consumption of information, leaving only necessary facts from credible sources.
“In order to manage anxiety, it’s going to be helpful to avoid Covid-19 overload,” says Myers. “One way to do this would be to limit yourself to checking the news only once or twice a day, and making sure that any information you get is from a reliable source. This would mean avoiding getting your news from social media, reddit, or other sites that could have misinformation, which will only serve to increase your anxiety. For accurate information and updates about Covid-19, the websites for the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control are good.”
For more tips on managing this new and mentally stressful situation, Myers recommends that students follow UNO’s Counseling Services on Instagram ( @UNOCounselingServices) for additional resources and support. Myers also reminds students to take their mental health seriously, and to call 911, text HOME to 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255) if they feel like the want to harm themselves or others.
As this Coronavirus pandemic continues, students must find a way to maintain their mental health, while also maintaining as much distance as possible to slow down the spread. It is important to treat yourself well, mentally and physically, so that you can continue to do whatever you can to keep yourself and others safe. If individuals isolate themselves, and continue to take this threat seriously, we may be able to ride out this pandemic with as few casualties as possible.
“We all have to chip in even if you don’t think you will be that sick if you get it,” says Schluchter. “You could carry [Coronavirus] to someone else that cannot handle it and will die. Also, there have been reports of young people having to be hospitalized from the virus. Do not assume your immune system can handle it. Please think of yourself and others and stay home and keep your distance.The good news is that scientists are working around the clock to test drugs already approved by the FDA to limit/halt the virus.There are teams of 30 or more labs collaborating. There are also several vaccines being developed and one being tested now in Washington State. I think science will save us.”