Yesterday, the Philippines confirmed 10 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total up to 20. The media is in a frenzy and people are panicking, but how serious is the viral infection, really? Are these cases all going to die? Should anyone, everyone, and their mothers get tested? Is the government doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus? Let’s do a deeper dive into COVID-19. Take a deep breathe. There’s a lot more to it that the media’s “breaking news”.
How concerned should we be?
More and more data is showing that most cases are mild. Unless you area member of the vulnerable population, you would likely not have any serious symptoms beyond what you would experience during a mild cold. Only are 15% of the reported cases are moderate and only 3-5% are critical.
Put this into perspective versus what the media is telling you. Is this the end of the world or the new plague on humanity? No. This will not kill off a majority of the population – in fact, most cases will not be severely affected.
According to both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the majority of people are face low immediate risks if exposed to the virus.
This is also why it is particularly difficult to contain the spread of disease. Healthy people can be personally unaffected by the virus, but can be carriers and infect vulnerable populations.
Take for example the suspension of classes for children. This is not for the children – it is really a preventive measure for the senior family members they have who could be exposed to pathogens through a simple beso or sharing utensils at home.
Who is at risk?
Older adults, particularly those above 60, are at risk. The highest mortality rates are for octogenarians (over 80s). Those who a history of organ failure, blood clotting issues, or cardiac conditions are most likely to suffer the worst complications of the virus. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, weak lungs, or weak immune systems are also likely to get ill.
But none of this is new.
These are the same vulnerable communities that can develop grave complications from the seasonal flu. Senior citizens are still far more likely to die from their preexisting conditions, particularly heart disease. The possibly life threatening pneumonia that some very vulnerable patients develop mimics the serious flu infections in the same demographic.
COVID-19 also affects vulnerable men more than women.
For healthy people aged 52 and younger, COVID-19 actually has symptoms more mild than the seasonal flu.
For context, 20,000 people die annually in the US from the seasonal flu. So far only 22 have died from COVID-19 in the US.
The mortality rate of COVID-19 is only 3.5%. It’s actually estimated to be lower, since so many healthy individuals can actually be infected with the virus but don’t know because the symptoms are so mild.
In the Philippines, the leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Tuberculosis kills more than 25,000 Filipinos every year and is spread in a similar way to COVID-19. And yet people do not panic over these.
So here’s some information to stop the panic:
Of the 114,422 confirmed cases as of this writing, only 4,027 deaths have been recorded. These are nearly all vulnerable individuals who would have been at risk with any other infection.
And as of this writing, 64,073 people have recovered from the virus – that means there is an over 50% recovery rate. 80% of the infected have no major symptoms.
So what should we do?
Just because you are exposed to the virus does not mean that you will die. If you are a healthy individual, there is a chance you won’t have any symptoms at all. For example, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the Philippines, a Chinese student, just had a mild cough as her only symptom. She has since recovered and now tests
Social distancing, or the avoidance of human-to-human physical interaction to prevent viral transmission is being recommended, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should practice it. If you do not come into regular contact with vulnerable people, there is no need to change your behavior any more than you would during flu season. Just wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. These are general things you should practice everyday, even if the COVID-19 scare passes. You might not catch the new strain, but there’s still countless other viruses and bacteria which could infect you in the same way.
Who should wear masks?
According to the World Health Organization, healthy people should only wear a mask if they are directly caring for a person with suspected COVID-19.
Put your masks away folks.
Unless you are coughing and sneezing or caring for an ill person, there is no need to wear a mask. Keeping a minimal distance between you and other people and practicing other general sanitation methods to prevent the spread of saliva or mucus is enough to keep you safe. Be laway conscious, but there’s no need to fear the air we breathe.
Masks should be reserved for the health professionals who are caring for sick patients. If they become infected, they will no longer be able to serve and our health infrastructure will be weakened. Don’t hoard masks away from these people. They are the ones who need it.
If you work in public transportation, particularly in a UV or Grab car, it would also be practical for you to wear one. Since you’re constantly in a small enclosed space with multiple people and operating a motor vehicle, it is just more practical to wear a waterproof mask.
Is the Philippines missing cases or under reporting cases?
There is really nothing concrete to suggest that we are under reporting our cases. The time frame between testing and reporting is no more than 24 to 48 hours, which shows that the DOH is informing the public as soon as they an. This also gives a good lead time for contact tracing and helps people self quarantine. There is no under reporting.
But are we testing enough? Are we missing cases?
Even the world’s most sophisticated healthcare systems are missing cases. The US, Italy, South Korea, and Japan have a number of cases, despite their more aggressive testing and more comprehensive health infrastructure. Why? Because transmission is incredibly hard to detect.
Right now, we are prioritizing the testing of vulnerable or susceptible populations. These are known contacts or people with travel history that would put them at risk. People demanding wide scale testing are not only impractical and idealistic, but dangerously selfish.
If you are storming hospitals because someone who works in the building next to yours tested positive for COVID-19, then you are taking away valuable health resources from people who are actually at risk. If you are clogging hospital emergency rooms even with no symptoms, just because you are paranoid and do not take the time to educate yourself on the virus, then you are exposing yourself to a host of other infections that you do not need to be exposed to.
We are following two WHO protocols and surveillance systems to identify who to test. The first identifies people based on travel or contact to a known case. The second one, SARI, looks for unexplained pneumonias and clusters of pneumonia in the community. SARI is how the DOH identified the country’s 5th case.
Mass testing is simply too much for our health infrastructure. It has even overloaded the health system of the US, so this isn’t a problem unique to us.
However, a Filipino kit is currently being validated. Testing is complicated and not many places can do it, so the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), is slammed with samples. Not only that, but each test costs the government P5,000 to P8,000 pesos. Testing people who are not probably infected is simply illogical and impractical at this point.
We are doing enough. Our government is responding and being proactive. Do not let your selfishness and paranoia spread fear and hysteria where it is not due. This will only harm our community.
Stay informed. Facts over fear. There is no need to panic. Stop spreading photos of the virus since it will only scare people. Start sharing information like the above 50% recovery rate and the 3.5% mortality rate.