Published as a column in CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday March 1, 2020.

It is nearly impossible to avoid the news about the coronavirus or COVID-19 nowadays. A couple of days ago a red and yellow photo depicting the virus caught my eye. Dramatic indeed. There is a reason why street signs are in yellow or red, to catch your eyes and alert you to something you should pay attention to. The photo did the same.

I am in no way panicked about the virus, but I realize that it is easy to be swept by the wave of fear that rises every day higher with new headlines. A Global News story related that it is getting harder to get masks and sanitizer in the Okanagan because people overbought out of panic. But it’s not just there. All over Canada, many suppliers are running out. Partly, that is because of the daily news that keeps pouring in about the ‘one more case of’ discovered here or there.

The photos of people wearing masks is a staple now, though enough doctors have now said that unless you are sick or in quarantine (in either case you should not be outside your home, dedicated facility or the hospital anyway,) wearing a mask will not do much. Plus, those who need them might not get access to them because of shortages.

Overdoing the hand sanitizer will never take the place of a robust immune system. It’s there for a reason and we can help keep it in great shape by eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep and washing hands with soap and water often. Let’s not forget that our bodies encounter bacteria and viruses on a regular basis and the immune system fights off many of them without us realizing.

Let’s also not forget that other diseases can be equally threatening or more. Influenza can be deadly. Pregnant women, people with chronic conditions, the elderly – more so residents of nursing homes, babies and toddlers, people with compromised immunity are at higher risk than the general population, hence more precautions are in place. But imagine for a second that every case of flu would be reported in the news; we’d be in panic mode for at least half the year.

Hence my concern about the daily dose of panic about coronavirus. It is true that it is spreading. The thing is, people travel everywhere every day, and there is no way to contain a virus to one country. People travel and so does the virus, and while our eyes are so set on the coronavirus, it is worth reminding ourselves that this is not the only outbreak in the world. In the U.S. there is at the moment a hepatitis A outbreak, causes being a combination of contaminated food and an (unprecedented) person-to-person transmission. There have 26,000 cases since 2016. Also on the U.S., the number of flu cases during the 2019/2020 season reached almost 15 million, with 54 pediatric deaths.

Being keen on prevention is a must, whether it is coronavirus we are trying to protect ourselves from, or influenza, or even the common cold. Doing all the right things health-wise means you lower the risk, but ultimately there are no guarantees. Still, every preventative action helps.

Meanwhile, looking after the most vulnerable among us is where it gets problematic, more so with outbreaks. There have been many horrific stories of elderly people in nursing homes who are suffering from lack of hygiene and basic care. Should an outbreak occur there, it is scary to imagine the outcome.

Should the rest of us then just toss our worries out the window and hope for the best? Not really.

Keeping informed is important but avoiding slipping into panic mode is even more so. Stocking up on non-perishable food that you could depend on for a couple of weeks should that be necessary is a good thing. Avoiding, as much as possible, all situations that can increase your risk of being exposed to coronavirus is also good precaution.

Stocking up on masks and other medical supplies, out of panic, which could cause a shortage and thus leave the most vulnerable of us, plus those who need them, healthcare professionals included, without, that is not bound to help our collective situation. Every person is better when the everyone (or most) in the community proceed with the greater good in mind.