Peace is the first part of our name for a reason — our goal is to achieve harmony around the world both online and offline. We aim to help keep the peace during crises. And right now we want to quell concerns and provide peacetech services for the rapidly spreading Coronavirus disease — as a pandemic of misinformation is outpacing the spread of the actual disease.
That's why we sat down with Dr. Marcos Espinal, the Director of Communicable Diseases and Official Coronavirus Spokesperson for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Regional Office of World Health Organization (WHO) for the Americas.
Q1: Do people have a reason to panic about COVID-19?
Not at all. Coronavirus is a new virus. Of course, new viruses generate fear and hesitancy, but we are learning more every day. The virus declaration has to do with pushing countries to do better and encouraging people to stay proactive. What the director general wants when declaring a pandemic is to inspire people to stay attentive, learn from other countries, and pursue all measures with diligence.
Q2: What are the best ways to stay informed and fight misinformation about coronavirus?
That is an excellent question, especially as we're seeing more fake news around the issue. Social media has made great contributions to society, but unfortunately, there's a significant dimension of online communication that proves more harmful than helpful. We have seen people without the best morals spread fake news and misinformation.
The important thing is for people to rely on trusted information sources like local government sites, the CDC, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the World Health Organization and PAHO. Our website provides the latest updates around what different countries and their citizens need to do in order to stay safe. Don't listen to everything you see or read on social media. It's important to stay calm and not create panic. We must take the problem seriously and protect the lives of the most vulnerable patients, but we must also remember that 80 percent of the cases are mild and eventually cured.
Q3: Now that WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic, should we be practicing any new prevention methods?
You know, every country is sovereign, and their leadership can recommend any measures they want. Some of the countries are going to take more extreme measures like, you know, closing borders and locking down cities and so on. But one measure that is important is to start practicing social distance actions.
Avoid mass gatherings if you are elderly or will encounter the elderly - older individuals are more likely to suffer a severe run of the disease and, in the worst case scenario, risk death. You know, protecting yourself with hand-washing is more important than using a mask. Masks are not of use for people who are perfectly healthy, but if you watch your hands with soap, this is a great benefit. Sporting events, concerts, theaters -- these are all great, but they are for leisure and entertainment, and you need to think first about your health. That's what I mean by social distance. We recommend one meter between people now, but people without symptoms don't need to go to those extremes. In terms of severity, 80 percent of the cases are mild, 14 percent are moderate, and only 5 percent result in severe disease (most likely in people 60 years of age with other conditions like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and so on).
Q4: How do you see this disease affecting us within the next month?
It's very difficult to predict at this moment what is going to happen. A few scenarios are likely. In fact, what we're seeing in China is a decline of cases, and that represents the natural progression of a virus. When a virus attacks a significant part of the population, people create start to create immunity after they pass the sickness and are protected. We are still learning from this virus and cannot conclude everything 100 percent.
There's also the issue of the time changes and weather. We are in the north where it's the season of influenza, and if Coronavirus behaves like the flu virus, the transition to warmer times should help in the decline of these cases. There are other countries in the south that are going to go into winter, so when we can possibly see a decline in some of the countries that are more advanced in the disease, like China and South Korea, other countries may see a surge in cases.
We don't know, and I think what we learn in the next month will be crucial to see what happens. I've seen, for instance, countries like the United States taking action now to minimize the impact of this virus, not only from the public health point of view but also economically and socially.
Q5: Is there a final message from the oldest public health agency in the world that you would like to give the public?
Don't panic. At some point it is going to pass. Protect yourself. Do practice hygiene -- 20 seconds hand washing, avoid mass gatherings for the time being, and do a little bit of social distancing. What we need now is to ensure that we protect people, prevent death, and navigate this without thinking it will be the end of the world.
Cough and fever are the main symptoms, and if you have those call your doctor and get the test -- they will know what to do. The important thing is to be tested. If a person has symptoms of the disease, it could be influenza or allergies -- not everything is going to be Coronavirus. At some point, it will go away, but at the moment, it is important to take precaution and make sure this is an effort for everyone. It's not an effort by only the government -- it's civil society, it's business, it's an all society approach. Do your part and you will be OK.
We are monitoring the Coronavirus very closely at PeaceTech Lab and responding accordingly, but for the most current information be sure to check out our resources. We're happy to answer any questions or concerns at email@example.com. Together, we can fight this "infodemic."