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Letters / Avoiding infection requires social distancing

I would like to take a few minutes to respond to the recent letter published in Shetland News, (Impact of lockdowns more devastating than virus itself; SN, 23 March 2020).

In reading the letter, I would respectfully disagree with the author about the seriousness of Covid-19 and respond to why isolation is a critical component in stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Last week, the scientific journal Morbidity and Mortality Report published data on confirmed Covid-19 patients in the US between February and March 2020.

I have included the table below that details the percentage of patients needing hospitalizations, intensive care treatment and the case-fatality rate.

If you would like to read the entire paper, I have provided the link here.

In addition, I believe that it is necessary to clarify some of the terms associated with isolation as it relates to disease control in order to better understand the strategies currently being put in place to help slow down the infection rate of the coronavirus associated with Covid-19.

I have very briefly provided a definition of three terms associated with isolation below:

‘Social distancing’, as associated with the current pandemic, is understood as maintaining a physical distance of least two meters away from another person that may or may not be infected with coronavirus. This strategy is necessary to ensure that there is enough physical space between a potentially infected and a non-infected person so that the virus cannot be spread through droplets in the air. Two meters will prevent this from happening.

‘Self-isolation’, is understood to mean that a person is keeping physically separate from others because they may have been exposed to coronavirus or because they are already ill. In addition to staying away from the general public, people who are self-isolating are also asked to stay apart from other members of their family, use a separate bathroom (if possible) and to disinfect areas that they have touched.

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‘Lockdown’, means that the entire population in a region is instructed to stay at home and individuals are only allowed out for essential travel, for example to buy groceries etc. Different countries have instituted a variety of rules and regulations associated with this type of isolation.

The question is: “What is the value of maintaining a physical distance between ourselves and others in the effort to stop transmission of coronavirus and prevent Covid-19?”

Let’s take a closer look at the virus and how it is transmitted to answer that question.

We know that Covid-19 is a disease that is easily be transmitted from one infected person to a vulnerable person by passing the coronavirus, usually in respiratory droplets, through coughs, sneezes etc.

In a perfect world, the very best answer to preventing Covid-19 would be to vaccinate the majority of the vulnerable population, thus creating a high enough immunity rate throughout the population (herd immunity) to prevent further infection and disease.

Many governments and pharmaceutical companies are working very hard to develop a vaccine. However, realistically that ‘magic-bullet’ vaccine against coronavirus is still months away.

The second best answer to saving lives against Covid-19 is to avoid being infected with coronavirus. Avoiding infection means avoiding exposure through social distancing and self-isolation of those infected or potentially infected.

Unfortunately, if the general population does not voluntarily adhere to these critical recommendations, there is no choice but to impose lockdown of movement to prevent the spread of coronavirus from one person to another.

I totally agree with the author of the letter when he indicates that keeping away from others is a very, very difficult thing to endure. There are some solutions already in place to try to help those that find themselves in this situation and we are fortunate to have digital technology to help us contact our family and ends.

Finally, in examining the facts that we already know about Covid-19 and the fact that we do not have an effective vaccine to prevent disease, we could still stop this virus in its tracks.

We could accomplish this by stopping the link of virus transmission from an infected person to the next vulnerable person. This would mean strict enforcement of social-distancing and self-isolation for those infected or exposed to the disease.

It would also mean increasing reliable testing to identify infected patients and isolating those infected for 14 days. If we all adhere to these strategies, the virus would cease to exist.

Deborah Briggs

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