The first two cases of COVID 19 were confirmed by the state late Tuesday night, leading Governor Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency. Multiple universities across the state have cancelled in-person classes through late April.
As Michigan begins dealing with what is now officially a pandemic, medical historian Dr. Howard Markel said that it is not time to panic.
“[COVID-19] is not something we have to fear. It is something we have to have legitimate concern [about] and take action against.”
COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which means it’s one that health officials and doctors have not dealt with before. Markel said the unknown nature of the virus is what makes it so scary to people. But the novelty of the virus itself doesn’t mean that health officials are completely unprepared, said Markel. Many of the strategies used in previous epidemics will be useful during a COVID-19 outbreak, including what’s known as “social distancing.”
Social distancing involves people avoiding contact with each other in order to stop the spread of the virus through a community. It can include actions like cancelling large events and working from home. Shutting down schools and businesses are the “nuclear option of public health tools,” according to Markel. He said actions like this are only taken when the threat of real danger from mass infection is greater than the risk of social disruption.
Markel said that while these actions may seem extreme, it’s important for preventative measures to be put into place sooner rather than later.
“Too late is not good. I would err on the side of too early. The history of public health officers is littered with officers who have either made the call too early and then people have complained, or too late and then people either get sick or die.”
While the virus doesn’t keep Markel “up at night,” he said he does have some concerns. One is the overwhelming amount of information about COVID-19 people have to sort through and understand.
“There is so much media, there are so many sources that the hype, I feel, is more virulent than the virus itself.”
Because of this, doctors and health officials play a key role not only in treating those sick with the virus, but also assuring and informing the public.
This article was written by Stateside Production Assistant Olive Scott.