With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising by the day in the United States and around the world, and with the World Health Organization declaring its spread a pandemic, it's difficult to not feel frightened and overwhelmed. Yet alongside the minute-by-minute news updates about the virus's spread, solutions journalists are on the ground reporting on what's working.
The stories in this collection (see below) explain how social distancing helps "flatten the curve," including lessons learned from the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak; how a "high-tech" device is tracking the coronavirus in "low-resource" countries; a promising treatment cocktail discovered by doctors in Thailand; and how widespread testing, communication and transparency has helped stem the spread of the virus in several Asian countries.
A regular dose of solutions journalism stories can help counter fear and anxiety, and you can click here to find more stories on how the world is responding to this pandemic. But equally important, as explained in this NPR story, is how each of us responds as individuals to protect ourselves, and our communities.
Together, we can keep this virus from spreading.
- Practice social distancing by curtailing all social interaction; canceling organized gatherings; working remotely; switching elbow bumps for handshakes; and keeping a distance of several feet from others whenever possible.
- Practice obsessive hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds on a regular basis; washing again after every encounter with a high-traffic area, like a doorknob, subway pole or grocery cart; using a alcohol-based (60 percent) hand sanitizer; avoid touching your face for any reason; and use a tissue to scratch an itch.
- Finally, if you have a fever, sore throat, cough, or muscle aches wear a mask if you have access to one; isolate yourself; keep washing your hands and avoid contact with others as much as possible until at least two to three days after your symptoms have resolved.
If you develop difficulty breathing, chest pain, profound weakness or confusion, seek medical attention.
Click here for more teaching collections on COVID-19.
- What do we know today about how the coronavirus is and isn't spread?
- What is social distancing, and why does it help contain the spread of the coronavirus that leads to the illness, Covid-19?
- Why is it crucial that the healthcare establishment have access to tests, and how has the lack of access hampered the ability of the United States to respond to the pandemic?
- What does it mean to "flatten the curve," and what are the lessons learned from the 1918 Spanish flu?
- Compare and contrast what happened in St. Louis and Philadelphia in 1918 to produce different public health results.
- What are the top three most effective responses that have been deployed in countries that seem to be containing this virus? What can the rest of the world learn from these early successes?
- Track how many people have been tested in your state, and how many cases have been confirmed by going to the Covid Tracking Project: https://covidtracking.com/
- What are you doing to stay mentally healthy during this crisis? Google "tips for staying sane during the coronavirus crisis" and then share on social media how you are taking care of yourself, your family and your community during this crisis.
- Learn this hand hygiene and social distancing dance, brought to the world by Vietnam's Quang Dangabout, and post a video of yourself and your friends doing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctF5aMV05kM.
- The virus is persistent, particularly on non-permeable surfaces, for up to two days under optimal conditions. However, it is a virus that is susceptible to very simple destructive forces, particularly soap and alcohol. Each of these substances destroy the “corona” of the virus and dissolve the fatty outer layer, essentially getting the virus to spill its guts and die. Warm water then washes away the dead viruses. Droplets from the coughs of those infected or their touching of surfaces after they’ve touched their face, puts the virus onto various surfaces. More recently, some studies have begun to show that simple respiration or talking can put the “aerosolized” saliva and moisture from the lungs into the air, where it can then be inhaled by passers-by and infect them. It is then spread by a lack of hygiene, in which those infected but asymptomatic fail to follow social distancing and person hygiene guidelines, particularly the regular and vigorous washing of hands. The virus is not passed through domestic animals (although they can carry it without any ill effect), cooked food, or by any particular ethnic, social, or economic group.
- “Social Distancing” is an umbrella term that covers a range of actions designed to keep individuals—if they must be near each other at all—at least two meters from each other. They include physical distancing; if you must go to market, do not move within 6 feet of another person. Social distancing also includes the suspension of activities that gather people: concerts, sporting events, pubs, restaurants, theaters, coffee shops, the list goes on. Almost every major professional sports league has suspended its season. The Olympics are postponed, and major conferences all over the world have been cancelled or postponed. Social Distancing also involves a dimension of civic responsibility in which individuals and families minimize their contact with the outside world; making one large shopping trip, for example, instead of several small trips as we’re used to. Much of the world’s workforce has been told to stay home and telecommute if possible, keeping people out of office gatherings. What all of these measures add up to is, in the best case, a dramatic reduction in the rate of the spread of the disease, which flattens the curve of infection spread and allows health care systems to cope with the influx of patients.
- If your health care system doesn’t have adequate testing systems in place—including ready access to the test, enough test kits for all who need them, reactants and transport systems, lab processing capacity, and an effective results feedback loop, public health officials face several challenges. They cannot know who has the virus, where it is spreading, or how quickly. They cannot effectively track those with potential exposure, since the population is filled with asymptomatic carriers. They cannot accurately predict how much materiel they need—beds, ventilators, masks, hazmat suits—to adequately address the public health crisis. They are, as they say, “flying blind.”
- “Flattening the curve” refers to a strategy that doesn’t attempt to eradicate the virus, but to control its infection rates through time, preventing health care infrastructure from being overwhelmed. That, in turn, should lead to far fewer deaths. In the US, for example, models predict that a steep infection curve could lead to between 1-2 million US deaths. Flattening the curve could reduce that number to hundreds of thousands. In San Francisco, this flattening of the curve could potentially push their “peak” infection rate out by a matter weeks or months, allowing for both fewer deaths and a health care system that can actually tend to everyone who is sick.
- From a public health standpoint, the differences between St. Louis and Philadelphia’s responses were textbook examples of the advantages of flattening the curve. St. Louis instituted stringent controls on gathering and events, encouraged people to stay indoors, and limited commerce. Philadelphia held a parade attended by 200,000 people and had lax enforcement of other social distancing measures. As one might expect, Philadelphia had a classic, steep, bell-shaped curve and St. Louis, a low, mounded curve.
- There are several answers students could choose to this question: Sophisticated tracking of carriers and potential victims:
- Rapid, easily accessible and widespread testing.
- Significant social distancing protocols; banning of gatherings, events, etc.
- Travel bans, both internal and external.
- Transparent, rapid, and continuous public information campaigns.