Misplaced Worry Regarding COVID-19

Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Why you should (and why you shouldn’t) be worried about this pandemic

Adam Morrison, Associate Opinion Editor

By now you and every other University of Toronto (U of T) student have learned that classes are cancelled, as a necessary precaution against the coronavirus (novel COVID-19). By no means am I a scientist, nor even a science student, but I hope to dissuade any of you from potential contribution to misplaced hysteria. If you are relatively healthy or a moderately fit young person, you aren’t at a large risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. However, we should be concerned about two large parts of society: the ill and the elderly. 

The efforts taken by U of T are justified for this reason: as much as the large part of the student body will remain healthy, having sick students who can infect those who are genuinely at risk is dangerous. Again, this disease is akin to a bad flu. Flus regularly kill and injure thousands of people a year. And that’s a valid argument against concern as similar symptoms and conditions are treated with relative ease in hundreds of people in a standard flu season. However, we don’t typically see a bad flu infect upwards of 100,000 people in a matter of a few months. 

Aside from protecting our ill and elderly, another problem which might arise from this pandemic is exhaustion of our healthcare system. Combined with an unpredictable timeline for a vaccine and our inexperience with COVID-19-specific treatment, treatment might slow or halt. It is thus warranted to be wary of the virus in terms of its potential to spread rapidly enough that it swamps hospitals and healthcare providers.

Different from other cities, Toronto has been through something similar before with SARS. But to say that an outbreak that happened 17 years ago is sufficient training for the entire city to coordinate is laughable at best. As with vaccines, precautions against COVID-19 are not for the typical, healthy populace. They are for those with an immune system unlike the aforementioned: the immunocompromised, the elderly, the sick. It is not primarily for us — although it is certainly part of it — but the perception of closing things down should be far more egalitarian in nature.  

As advised by microbiologists, doctors, news media outlets, and U of T, we need to be washing our hands. A study done in 2018 by the International Journal of Epidemiology shockingly revealed that approximately 51% of people with high access to hand-washing facilities (meaning people in Canada, among other developed countries) failed to wash their hands after potential faecal contact. People are actually going to the restroom and not washing their hands. This means that if people are failing to wash their hands after using the restroom, they’re probably also failing to do so after using public transit, when leaving and arriving at home, or touching doors and knobs. Seems a no-brainer even without a pandemic. 

Stop the hysteria and do your due diligence: spare our elderly, our ill, and our healthcare systems. Wash your hands.