Health Science Faculty: Focus on the Community’s Health

March 23, 2020
By: WSU News

Faculty from the Health Sciences Department recently shared tips on staying healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to encourage students to take the crisis seriously to protect vulnerable populations and slow the spread of the disease. Based on their expertise in public health and health education, the faculty recommended students:

  1. Stay home, even if you feel healthy.

“When you go out, you may only encounter healthy people, but they may then encounter individuals at higher risk of death, such as those who are elderly, immunosuppressed, have heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, hypertension, or lung cancer,” says Assistant Professor Laura E. Bothwell, Ph.D., of the Department of Health Sciences.  And while data is emerging daily, she says even healthy people are at risk. “So far, data shows Covid-19 has been a minimum of 10-15 times more lethal than the flu and can cause serious lifelong side effects like scar tissue in the lungs requiring lifelong restrictions on activity level.”

  1. Protect our medical system from being overwhelmed, and prevent what happened in Italy from happening here.

“In Italy, doctors do not have enough ventilators, and are forced to choose between patients who will receive care and who will die. Patients are treated in hospital corridors rather than isolation rooms, worsening disease spread,” says Bothwell, noting that Italy has 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people versus 2.8 in the United States. The U.S. also has a shortage of ventilators as well as face masks for health care workers. “Health care workers are now told to use scarves and bandanas as masks as a last resort. This is why staying home now is so important in slowing the rate of transmission and the overall number of cases (a.k.a. flatten the curve).”

  1. Understand that people without symptoms spread the Coronavirus.

Bothwell says approximately half of all transmissions of Coronavirus may occur from individuals who don’t know they are sick.

  1. Take precautions if it is absolutely necessary to leave home.

Bothwell and her colleagues echo now-familiar recommendations to frequently wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, use a clean tissue to touch frequently used surfaces (e.g. elevator buttons, gas pumps, etc.), keep a social distance of six feet or more between people, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face, and sanitize your phone. Recent research shows that COVID-19 lives 72 hours on plastic, 48 hours on steel, and 24 hours on cardboard so she recommends washing hands after handling mail, boxes, or freshly purchased groceries.

  1. Know the source when searching for the most accurate public health information.

Peer-reviewed scientific articles in journals such as the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have included a wealth of new data on COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, virologists, and pandemic disease epidemiologists are among the best sources because these experts have devoted their lives to understanding and responding to pandemic diseases.

“News sources that directly and accurately quote these experts can be a strong source of public information,” says Bothwell. “Our health professionals are our best source of information over those who are not trained in the health professions and we can learn extensively from those on the front lines of fighting this disease.”

For the big picture, pandemic disease experts have been trained to analyze pandemics at the broad societal level and are best equipped to provide the most precise analyses and strongest predictions.

  1. Focus on compassion and community values.

“Pandemics are prevented when we focus on the impact of our actions on the community, not ourselves,” says Bothwell. “In our campus community, now is the time for flexibility to accommodate those who may become ill, are assisting ill family members, or are financially burdened with work and life disrupted by Coronavirus.”

Those in need of emergency assistance can gain information on help through services such as the United Way, and those with the means to donate can contribute (see https://www.unitedway.org/our-impact/featured-programs/2-1-1)

  1. Don’t forget mental and physical health.

“Pandemics can provoke anxiety and isolation can be challenging. Countless fitness and wellness groups offer online courses now and online galleries have opened, from NASA to some of the world’s greatest museums. Late night hosts are broadcasting from their homes. We are in this together and thanks to the bright sides of the internet, we do not need to feel alone and can stay physically and mentally well at home,” says Bothwell.

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