New coronavirus...diligence, yes...panic, no!

News of more than 500 deaths caused by the new Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has many residents of the FSM, if not panicked, at least highly concerned that the virus might arrive in this country.  Some are absolutely certain that if even one infected person arrives in the FSM the disease will wipe out the population in short order. In Pohnpei, all paper masks in retail outlets are entirely sold out.  Some have reported having witnessed stockpiling and hoarding activity out of fear that in addition to the extensive travel ban, the government will shut down inbound shipping of crucial dietary and other supplies such as fuel which powers the generators that supply power to the FSM.

Residents of the FSM can rest easy at least regarding the incoming shipping concerns. The FSM released yet another amended emergency health declaration today saying that as long as shippers abide by FSM quarantine policies, shipping will go on uninterrupted. Fishing vessels will also have to comply (see page 6).

It is absolutely vital to remain diligent and protect ourselves from the virus in every way we possibly can, both on individual levels by diligent hand washing and other recommended practices, and by country wide policies.  It is important to be diligent. It is a serious virus and it is spreading, but it is counterproductive to panic.

Sometimes just having information on what scares you can stave off hysteria and overthinking.  It certainly has helped me as I’ve lived and breathed the 2019 coronavirus crisis and FSM’s response to it.  Statistics sometimes help.

According to a tracking site provided by Johns Hopkins CSSE (Center for Systems Science and Engineering), as of this morning there have been a total of 28,353 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) since the beginning of the outbreak in late December, 2019. Of those cases, 565 people (approximately 1.99%) of those people have died from the infection.

Of the total number of cases identified, only 265 have been in countries other than mainland China. So far, the virus has been identified in 28 countries. Of the 565 deaths, two have occurred outside mainland China, one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong.  So far, 1,382 people have recovered after being infected. 11 of those recoveries were outside mainland China in six different countries.

The science of epidemiology which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health is a complicated one.  It relies heavily on Mathematics: dynamic systems and differential equations, graph theory, probability theory and more disciplines are at the heart of epidemiology. It is far too early to say how far 2019 coronavirus will spread or how devastating it will be. I’m told that since SARS and the new coronavirus are related but different viruses, drawing comparisons between the two viruses isn’t very helpful.  The Doctor who told me that didn’t make an effort to explain why. The World Health Organization draws comparisons on their website while making it clear that they are different viruses and so I will do the same.

Perhaps, at least in layman’s terms and without heavy Math, it would be helpful to know that, according to experts, while the 2019 Coronavirus spreads differently and perhaps faster than SARS did, it causes less damage. SARS had a mortality rate of approximately 10% while 2019 Coronavirus has had a 2% mortality rate.

So far, NO Pacific Island State has yet had a confirmed case of 2019 coronavirus and all are working to ensure that remains to be the case.  That’s encouraging as well.

The response of the FSM government, while intense and personally difficult for some of its residents has also been encouraging to the people of the FSM who are worried about the spread of the virus.

One professional member of the FSM task force said that each lab in the FSM now has at least one certified Biological Safety Cabinet that are each certified to meet Australian and US standards. They have a bio-safety program and all lab techs have gone through a series of bio-safety trainings and so now understand, and are able to perform risk assessments for Laboratory Acquired Infections.  Labs in Australia and in the US can evaluate samples sent from labs in the FSM and lab technicians know how to properly handle them.  FSM doesn’t have the capacity to determine whether a flu like virus is 2019-coronavirus or a common flu but personnel know how to get the answers and that’s encouraging.

Pohnpei has developed a plan of action for response to the international crisis.  It said that the SARS outbreak of 2003 that we were cautioned not to mention, led to the building of an isolation ward at the Pohnpei State Hospital.  Other states have their own action plans. That’s encouraging.

Physical quarantine sites have been identified to keep potential victims of the 2019-coronavirus away from the general populace.  That’s encouraging.

On a less encouraging note, the World Health Organization has said that older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as, diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.  Unfortunately, the FSM has a higher number of people with diabetes and also of people with respiratory ailments.  If the virus lands here and IF it spreads here, those people might have a more difficult time fighting the virus off.

Still, vigilance is required.  Panic is not.

Bill Jaynes

Managing Editor

The Kaselehehlie Press

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