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Coronavirus outbreak is ‘a time of sacrifice for all of us’

To help contain transmission of coronavirus, the CDC has issued guidelines for “social distancing.” But as the virus continues to spread, many more questions on when to close schools, how to seek day-to-day healthcare and the extent of the outbreak in the coming weeks remain unanswered. Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    To help contain transmission of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for social distancing. For some, that has meant limiting the number of people in a gathering or encouraging people to keep a distance of six feet from others. Joining me now is Crystal Watson, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Let's get a kind of a basic understanding here. When we talk about social distancing, is it about the physical space just around ourselves or lots of other behaviors?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Yeah, it's about physical space around ourselves, that's the fundamental. But it's also about not going to places where either you could be exposed to many people or you could expose someone if you're ill and maybe even don't know it. We're seeing some more indications that this might be transmitted pre-symptomatically or asymptomatically before people have symptoms. And so sometimes we won't even know that we're were infected with the virus.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, a lot of people will say, hey, listen, this, I understand how that should work for the elderly or the frail. I'm healthy. I'm young. Why should I engage in this distancing?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Right. So we're taking some pretty big steps here to cancel schools, to work from home. Those are all big things that are causing us to sacrifice a lot collectively. But the reason we're doing that is because we want to protect those older individuals and those people with other underlying conditions that might be more susceptible to severe disease if they get infected with this virus.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And so far, we have heard that this is not a virus that's affecting children nearly as much as previous ones. So the raging debate, at least in the city of New York and other places, are should the school districts stay open?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Right. It's a really hard call, we always want more information than we have in these types of crises. But what we've seen so far is that children in large part don't get as sick as other people. But what we don't know enough about is whether they are drivers of transmission of this virus, whether they are actually spreading it when they're asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. So it's a hard call to make. There are a lot of downstream implications of closing schools. But I think in the places where they have been closed, it's it's a good thing to do to really respond to this virus and be conservative here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how does a society go on functioning in terms of, well, when we start to think about closing small businesses, that's kind of the lifeblood of most economies. If you start to say, hey, if you're a restaurant, go ahead and space everybody three feet apart, it might not be profitable enough to stay open. So what are some, what are some things that we can do to try to get through this and have some semblance of access and keep people employed?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Well, I think a big business through this crisis is going to be deliveries at home. So if if companies can change their practices and be able to create deliveries instead of having people come to restaurants, that's going to be hugely helpful. But this is going to be a time of sacrifice for all of us. And so we need to band together to really do what we can to limit the spread. And that way, hopefully we will get through this all together. And the damage won't be so bad.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So far, have we learned that this is something that gets out of your system? If you have it, if you have mild symptoms, it's you're one and done? Or if you have to be hospitalized, are you done then? Is there a possibility of this thing recurring in an individual's body?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Yeah, that's another big scientific question that people are working on right now. We have seen some, some recent research on this, but we really don't understand enough to be able to know if you're going to get reinfected with this virus. We do have experience with other corona viruses where, that cause common colds and people do get reinfected with them. But we just don't know enough at this point.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the questions we had from viewers yesterday was, should we be going to non-emergency standing doctor's appointments? Where, there's lots of things that could go wrong with our health besides this virus–what's a balance between making sure that I stay healthy for other reasons and trying to stop from getting this?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Yeah, that's an important balance. And I would suggest the best thing to do if you have an appointment and you're not sure if you should go to the doctor's office is to call your doctor, have a conversation with them. They can help you decide whether it's worth going to the doctor, where there might be other people who are sick or whether it's better to stay home and reschedule for a later time.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I'm personally guilty of this. I went to the gym yesterday almost out of habit. I showed up. I did what I did, and then I was thinking about what was happening in there. Are gyms good places to spread this kind of thing?

  • Crystal Watson:

    I think any place where you're gathering together in big groups and in close quarters, there is the possibility of spreading the virus. I understand the need to go to the gym. I think we need to keep both of our mental and physical health up if we're gonna get through this together. So if you do go to the gym, I would say don't take part in those large classes. That's probably an area where there could be more contact and spread. And if you use equipment to wipe it down before and after, wash your hands really well and that'll help limit.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Are you optimistic that this is going to reach some sort of peak in the next few weeks for the United States based on the data that we're seeing country after country?

  • Crystal Watson:

    Yeah, based on the data we're seeing both outside of the US and and in the US now, I think we're still seeing just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cases here. So I think we should buckle in for for a little while. I hope I'm not optimistic that it will just be a couple of weeks.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Crystal Watson, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, thanks so much.

  • Crystal Watson:

    Thank you.

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