Boy on Parents Shoulders

Hysteria and panic won’t make you feel safer. Instead, take common-sense approaches to reduce your risk of exposure.

– Michael Dowling

The past few weeks have been filled with rising anxiety among the general public about the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus, properly known as COVID-19. Fear of the unknown can drive hysteria, paranoia and irrational behaviors that can exacerbate the problem, such as hoarding cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, protective masks and other materials that are now in short supply.

While there are certainly legitimate concerns over COVID-19, there is no need to panic. Most health care organizations have been preparing for the rapidly escalating virus to hit the US for weeks. And there has been tremendous support and collaboration among health systems and local, state and federal health officials.

While there is no vaccine yet for coronavirus and we are continuing to learn more about how it is contracted and spread, the illness is relatively tame compared to other infectious disease like Ebola and not nearly as widespread as the flu, which has already killed 20,000 Americans this season. Unless you suffer from a pre-existing respiratory issue, are immune-compromised or are elderly and in poor health, you should be safe. Some people may not even realize they have COVID-19 because symptoms are so minimal.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80 percent of those infected experience relatively mild symptoms, about 15 percent become critically ill and three percent have died worldwide, which is much lower than the Ebola mortality rate (50 percent) and the SARS outbreak in 2003 (10 percent).

While there have been more than 100,000 confirmed cases globally, more than half of those individuals had already been discharged from hospitals — and nearly 60,000 have recovered. Most who present to urgent care facilities and emergency departments with symptoms are sent home and required to stay there. At this point, the biggest challenge is getting people tested, which will get a big boost when more hospitals, health systems and commercial labs can supplement the testing being done by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states and cities. The mortality rate is also expected to decline, considering there will be more people who tested positive but have mild or no symptoms at all.

As testing capacity increases, the amount of cases is sure to grow. But like anything in life, it’s not how hard you get hit, it’s how you respond. Our response is what will minimize the hysteria during the coming weeks. We need to stay calm, be realistic and know that the right people are in place to handle the situation.

The outbreak of a disease doesn’t mean your life should come to a halt and your health should suffer. You should continue exercising and eating well. Get good sleep. Use relaxation techniques and listen to the experts and health care providers.

Panic never solved anything and only raises tension during an already stressful time. It also reduces your body’s capability to fight infection and disease. And by using common sense, we will stay together and survive this outbreak.

Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, New York’s largest health care provider and private employer.

This op-ed appeared in Newsday.

Continue to stay informed on the coronavirus.