Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
From the outset, there was consistent assurance from public health experts that stocking up on surgical masks will not reduce your chance of catching a common cold, the flu or the novel coronavirus. It was widely reported. As Dr. Pauline Jose, clinical instructor at UCLA and family medicine specialist explains to Livestrong: “There is no conclusive evidence that the use of face masks protects healthy people in their day-to-day life.”
Yet, the rush to buy this protective equipment has caused shelves and online outlets to be drained, causing some pharmacies to run out. The latest manifestation of this type of behavior is the panic-buying of toilet paper. What is it about toilet paper that makes people so anxious that they will buy a year’s supply or more, clearing shelves faster than they can be filled? As a recent Los Angeles Times report points out, it would take a household of 15 to consume just one Costco-sized 30-pack over the course of a 14-day quarantine. For a couple, one pack can be expected to last nearly four months.
We continue to be reassured that there is no risk to the nation’s toilet paper pipeline. “It’s not like suddenly all the toilet paper factories in the world are burning down,” Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies manufacturing supply chains tells the LA Times. “They’re still cranking this stuff out.” Toilet paper plants can quickly increase output to meet demand when necessary.
The report goes on to say that other countries with severe outbreaks have not suffered total shutdowns of stores or illness rates that disabled the logistics and paper industries. In Italy and parts of China that went into full lockdown, grocery stores remained open, as did factories producing essential products.
Upon news of a blizzard or a hurricane approaching our shore, similar behavior will occur as folks descend on stores, buying up more batteries, bottled water and canned foods than they could use in a decade or so. As psychologist Mary Alvord, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine tells Time magazine, such panic buying represents one thing among the uncertainty that we can control. “There is comfort in knowing that (the provisions are) there,” she says.
Nervousness, a sense of impending doom and uncontrollable worry are all common symptoms of anxiety disorders. According to an NPR report, the first national survey in China on the psychological effects of the coronavirus outbreak shows an uptick in those symptoms. We are not exempt from such effects in a country where anxiety already affects an estimated 40 million adults.
The days and months ahead will challenge us all as never before, yet on an individual level, if more of us take it as an opportunity to change behaviors and develop the healthy habit of frequent hand-washing, dispensing with handshakes and avoiding touching our faces, we not only gain more control in countering COVID-19 but also reduce the incidence of colds and flu.
As reported on last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, good hand-washing hygiene could prevent an estimated 1 in 5 respiratory infections a year. That is the equivalent of about 6 million cases of the flu. Let us add to the mix what NPR’s Morning Edition referred to as “a third hand” — your smartphone. You may have washed your hands squeaky clean, but it all could be for naught. Your next action could likely be picking up your cellphone, which could be covered with pathogens. Then holding it close to the eyes, nose and mouth, where germs can enter the body. We are not only routinely transmitting germs to our phones with our fingers but also haphazardly placing our devices on surfaces that may be unclean.
As noted by NPR, a new study found that the novel coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. The virus has shown the capability for remaining viable for days.
“Studies have shown that smartphones surfaces are covered in bacteria, including bacteria that can cause serious infections,” says Judy Guzman-Cottrill, an infectious disease expert at Oregon Health and Science University. Wiping your smartphone down with a disinfectant wipe at least twice a day, or soap and water if it is waterproof, takes just a matter of seconds and can make a difference.
Let us also not forget to stop touching the face. Most of us do it multiple times an hour without even realizing it. We need to pause throughout the day to notice this compulsive behavior. Says Dr. Vanessa Raabe of NYU Langone Health to The New York Times: “Be cognizant of triggers.”
A recent post on The Conversation by Jonathan Kanter, director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington, and Adam Kuczynski, a Ph.D. student from the department of psychology, raises concerns regarding some of the health risks mandated social isolation can bring on. In response, we need to see within the current situation the need to not build walls but build bridges to others.
“In times of stress and illness, being deprived of social connection can create more stress and illness,” they write. People under such stress can show weaker immune responses. “Depriving the sick of social connection and physical closeness unfortunately may make it harder for them to defeat infection.” They go on to speak of the importance of embracing others in “figuratively.” To consider checking in with people you know who are more vulnerable and see what they might need. “Give them some of that toilet paper,” they write.
“Doing so combats the impulse to build walls. It puts you in touch with the better angels of your nature, and gives these angels voice and purpose,” they add.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspo
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