The COVID-19 coronavirus strain should rightfully terrify Colorado, and the globe at large, yet we cannot be panicked by it. That is the fundamental paradox faced by our state, country and global community right now.
While panic-hoarding toilet paper may be humorous, it is much less funny when it denies hospitals and clinics necessary health care equipment such as masks and gowns.
Right now level-headed leadership, such as that demonstrated by Gov. Jared Polis, may be our greatest asset to combat that dilemma.
Not only have Polis and other leaders in Colorado taken critical steps to address the pandemic, but their calm demeanor in doing so helps protect us from the indirect and significant consequences a full-blown panic could cause.
An important starting point centers on the primary driver for drastic public health measures.
This measures include social distancing, closing schools and businesses, telling people to stay at home and other mitigation strategies. Specifically, all these actions aim to slow the rate of infection.
Not stop it. Slow it.
This is one reason I am not a big fan of the term “containment” as used for the coronavirus. To much of the public, containment implies that it can be sealed off and halted entirely. That is an utter fiction.
To the contrary, some health care professionals have begun to warn that most people across the country will eventually be exposed to the coronavirus.
But eventual exposure over time isn’t the worst-case outcome.
The nightmare scenario would be a geometric growth rate of coronavirus infection so steep that it outstripped our healthcare industry’s ability to care for the population. That is precisely what happened in China and Italy.
It is also why population health experts have begun emphasizing measures to “flatten the curve.” By taking immediate and drastic measures to limit the infection growth rate, the number of infections can be spread out over time.
Rather than dealing with an overwhelming influx of patients at one time, treatment and resources can be delivered in a more even manner. That means patients rotating out will make beds available for those coming in later; people coming off ventilators will free them up for those who follow.
Not only will flattening the curve help ensure adequate resources are available for people when they become ill, but it would likely reduce the overall number of people who become infected or sick.
For governments and health care providers, that means they must increase access to testing, expand surge capacity in hospitals and clinics, coordinate tracking efforts, and, yes, even institute travel restrictions such as the one inartfully imposed by President Trump.
For individuals, that means avoiding crowds, limiting contact with at-risk populations (adults aged 65+ or with suppressed immune systems), washing hands thoroughly and staying home, particularly if you feel sick.
The majority of people who do get infected will only notice mild flu-like symptoms: fever, body aches and a cough. But it’s critical to remember that just because one person doesn’t feel too ill – looking at you, Rudy Gobert – doesn’t mean they aren’t a potentially life-threatening hazard to someone else.
The good news, and the reason not to panic, is that many public officials and health care professionals have already begun taking steps to help Colorado deal with the coronavirus. We are well underway to ramping up testing and many public institutions have already closed with more to surely follow.
Now it will be up to us as individuals to care for ourselves and our communities. If we can keep calm, avoid panic and act responsibly, there is no reason we cannot see ourselves through the worst of this pandemic.
The coronavirus is scary and it is terrifying, but it isn’t stronger than our shared Colorado character.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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