fitness · illness

Facts and fears about the coronavirus, and what we can do

We here at Fit is a Feminist Issue think and write a lot about how to respond when life throws a coconut cream pie right in the face of your fitness/health-according to you plans and makes an enormous mess of things.

A kid with coconut cream pie on their face. Not amused.
A kid with coconut cream pie on their face. Not amused.

I do love me some funny food fight pictures. But this post is to talk a bit about the coronavirus outbreak, so I’ll hold off on the humorous images until next time.

Lots of people are worried about this virus. They’re worried because scientists haven’t yet determined how fast and easily it spreads, how dangerous it is to us, how we can protect ourselves and our communities and colleges and workplaces from it, and when it will be over.

What facts do we know, or think we know so far?

The coronavirus (2019-nCoV, for novel coronavirus) originated in a Wuhan animal market in China, where researchers believe it was transmitted from animals to people.

The virus can be spread through contact with droplets (coughing, sneezing) from an infected person.

So far all of the confirmed cases outside of China can be traced back to persons with a Wuhan connection.

The 2019-nCoV death rate so far is around 2%. That number is almost certainly going to drop (more cases identified, cases identified earlier, so lower death rate). For comparison, the death rate from SARS in 2002-2003 was around 10%. The annual death rate for flu in the US and Canada is around .1–.2% (this varies year to year). To date, there have been no deaths from 2019-nCoV outside of China.

What don’t we know so far?

Researchers haven’t determined how easily 2019-nCoV can spread from person to person. There are reports of infected but not-yet-sick people spreading the virus to others. But, there’s not scientific consensus yet.

We don’t know how widespread the outbreak will be, or how long it will last, or whether there will be a large number of cases outside China. The spread of the virus is currently conforming to public health researchers’ expectations– namely, rapid doubling of cases– but the bulk of the cases are in China, suggesting that containment efforts are currently having an effect.

We, as individuals, as members of families and communities, don’t know how vulnerable our communities and our families are.

What do we fear?

We fear getting sick and dying from a virus with no cure. We fear infecting others and getting infected by others– people we care about and people we work with and see in our cities and towns. Many of us remember the SARS outbreak– the fear, the loss of life and the uncertainty around how to respond and protect ourselves and others.

Some of us fear anything and anyone associated with the origin of the virus. There are reports of strong xenophobia and hostility against China, against Chinese individuals, and against anyone who looks vaguely Asian. A college satire online zine just published a story mocking the misinformed and xenophobic responses on college campuses. But it’s not really funny, given that these reactions are happening for real.

We also fear what the outbreak will do to the flow of our lives and bank accounts in the short and long-term. Air Canada, British Airways, and other carriers have canceled flights to China for the time being. Global commerce– from Starbucks coffee to Apple products– is stalled and interrupted.

What can we do?

Take a breath. And again. And again. Trying to stay in the present, finding a little clarity– all of these help us get in shape to sift through, take in and use information effectively. If you don’t mind your breathing ritual laced with a fair amount of profanity, check out this youtube video.

Wash our hands. This is good public health hygiene for anytime, and especially during flu season. It also works now. Need a refresher on how to do it properly? The CDC tells you right here.

Do we need to wear masks? The CDC says it’s not necessary (their FAQ is here). But this is entirely a personal decision, based on lots of individual factors. I don’t wear a mask during flu season if I’m not sick. I do wear one if I am sick and go to my doctor. That’s me.

Keep ourselves informed through reliable sources. The CBC interviewed infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam, who offers short and sensible advice. (Thanks, Martha, for that reference).

Keep moving– to the gym (do wipe down those machines), to the woods, to wherever we enjoy some physical activity. Yeah, I’m taking my own mat to yoga classes, but that’s because it’s comfier than the ones they have there.

Support each other in ways that, despite our fears, acknowledge that we live together in a global community, in sickness and in health.

And, apparently also in square dancing. I’ll leave you with a picture of Chinese women square dancing in Beijing. I wish them and all of us good health and happiness.

Women square dancing in a park in Beijing.
Women square dancing in a park in Beijing.

Readers, what are you thinking or feeling about the 2019-nCoV outbreak? Are you changing the way you do things? Have you been affected by it? We are here to listen and support you.

3 thoughts on “Facts and fears about the coronavirus, and what we can do

  1. I tried to post lst time but my comments didn’t show up.

    I have several sibliings who work Metro Toronto hospitals. Suffice to say: 1 sister is an emergency medicine doctor while another is a hospital pharmacist at a major Toronto downtown teaching hospital. She is on patient care teams and in drug trial studies. Still another is a receptionist in an oncology ward.

    At work in my prairie city we do have a work colleague who has returned back to Wuhan to visit her aging parents as she does annually during this time. Don’t know about her…would be surprised if we see her soon this month back at work.

    Her work cubicle is beside mine.

    So people can worry a lot walking the streets (which is probably safe if one is simply outdoors)..but especially if one is on the health care front service lines…. The sisters are primary breadwinners in their families and they each have children.

  2. Sure there are incredibly stupid jokes here and there on social media about Chinese. Let the stupidity ride…

  3. Wonderful and useful post, Catherine – thank you. I lived in downtown Toronto during SARS; I was finishing my PhD at UofT. Suffice to say I was smack in the middle of transmission-potential central! I remember well the raging xenophobia around the disease (boo and hiss), but I don’t remember panicking myself. I washed my hands. I was aware of my surroundings. I remembered to keep up my healthy food and exercise habits.

    It’s important for us all to remember that, like any flu-side virus, this one affects largely the young, the old, and the immune-compromised. Those of us living healthy adulthood should be aware but not anxious. I encourage everyone to click on the link to the short CBC piece in your post; it is sensible and reassuring!

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