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Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Coronavirus. The word has spread rapidly through news outlets and across social media platforms worldwide, infecting our sense of security with mounting dread as the novel virus itself has crossed every national boundary with near impunity.

The contagion is literally an invading army, invisible, marching through cities large and small as it conducts a silent offensive, laying devastation in its wake.

To a large degree the harm is also psychological.

The stock market is melting down before our eyes, major sports events canceled, universities closed; institutions tremble at the onslaught while extraordinary measures have begun in an attempt to mitigate the crisis.

There have been at least four pandemics in the 19th Century, and three in the 20th Century, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

And now the second pandemic of the 21st Century is upon us in the year 2020, and it is just as vicious as the rest.

According to the CDC, pandemics occur when a new virus emerges — typically from a mutation of the disease in an animal host allowing it to jump species — that is able to infect people easily and because of its novel characteristics; meaning people won’t be immune and a vaccine isn’t readily available to help ward it off.

It’s possible that this pandemic leaves the U.S. relatively unscathed as governmental and health agencies take draconian steps to curtail the disease, but the World Health Organization warned in a recent news report that the “window of opportunity” to halt the spread of coronavirus is “narrowing,” adding that, “We need to act quickly before it closes completely.”

It may already be too late.

For now quarantines and “social distancing” are some of the remedies to slow the progression of the disease, together with the practice of hand washing with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes/nose/mouth, covering coughs or sneezes with tissue paper, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

We’re being asked to self-isolate at home whenever feasible, to avoid contact with those who are already infected.

Testing for and isolating identified cases is also a top priority by health officials, but delays in testing since the discovery of the COVID-19 virus has only intensified the emergency.

My concern is not only for myself — a man nearly 64 years old with diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure — but also for friends and neighbors, some of whom like me have underlying medical issues. So I’m taking this outbreak rather personally.

My brother, not exactly a spring chicken himself, seems to be taking the growing pandemic in stride, is right to say we mustn’t panic. But there’s a wide gulf between panic and complacency. How we prepare ourselves for this crisis is critical.

Health officials have been warning that a majority of people across the globe will likely be infected with the potentially deadly coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China — the center of the outbreak in late 2019.

But most people, 80 percent or so will experience mild to moderate symptoms — only to fully recover after a couple of weeks, note experts.

Unfortunately, survivors may still have permanent lung damage in the form of lesions, clinicians who specialize in infectious disease say.

With a reported mortality rate from between 2.4 and 3.6 percent (versus 0.16 percent from the seasonal flu), we know numerous lives will be lost during this lethal pandemic.

Medical personnel working at the front lines are also at high risk as they make every effort to care for the rest of us, potentially sacrificing their own welfare in the process.

In Italy, for example, where the entire country is in lockdown, there are now simply too many patients for each one of them to receive adequate care.

Doctors and nurses are unable to tend to everyone and they lack enough machines to ventilate all those gasping for air.

I think we must acknowledge that there will be major disruptions to our daily lives for the foreseeable future, resulting in closed schools, working from home when possible, restricting or canceling air travel and delaying elective medical procedures.

From what I’m hearing, and despite mitigation efforts, by mid-May hospitals will likely see a surge in infections, while an effective vaccine is at least a year or more away.

Overburdened with patients suffering from pneumonia and other complications, public health experts caution that many victims won’t be treated due to understaffing and lack of beds and ventilators adequate to meet the viral blitzkrieg.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, an American immunologist who has made substantial contributions to HIV/AIDS research and other immunodeficiencies, both as a scientist and as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, warned on MSNBC on March 11 that the coronavirus outbreak “is going to get worse,” and we have little choice but to “tough it out” until an effective vaccine is eventually developed.

Later during a House hearing, Dr. Fauci said that the coronavirus was at least, “Ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”

Last week I told my editor that should I contract the coronavirus, with the first sign of symptoms, I’m checking myself into Banner Hospital in Susanville. I just hope by then they’ll have room for me.

Sobering times.

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