ST. GEORGE — As global cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus rise and deaths associated with the virus have now been reported in the United States, fear and myths continue to surround the virus, which was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.
Amid those fears, consumers have been stocking up on surgical face masks as well as household items such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies containing bleach. Bottled water is also disappearing rapidly from stores in places across the country, including locally at stores such as Walmart and Costco.
Though representatives from Walmart could not comment directly on whether they had seen an increase in sales on certain items, corporate communications sent the following statement in an email to St. George News:
We continue to monitor the development of the coronavirus situation globally, and are closely following official recommendations while working with our suppliers to understand and mitigate any supply chain disruptions. Providing customers with the products they want and need remains our focus.
While Walmart is not speaking directly to the issue, St. George residents have shared photos from stores of empty shelves where popular items should be stocked, indicating that many people are making additional preparations in light of the recent virus.
And in Cedar City last weekend, a resident reportedly overheard a Walmart employee directing a customer to empty shelving where hand sanitizer should have been before telling the woman, “We are also sold out of face masks,” even though the customer hadn’t specifically asked about the latter.
Beyond the preparatory measures many are taking, myths surrounding the virus are being widely circulated through social media, perhaps adding to the growing misunderstandings about COVID-19.
St. George News reached out to health care professionals for the most current information, as well as to dispel some of those myths and provide accurate ways to help prevent the spread of the virus.
What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are viruses that have been around for probably about as long as people have, said Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. In fact, they cause about 30% of common colds every year.
Coronaviruses can infect most animals and sometimes jump from animals to humans, causing a variant of the virus. In humans, coronaviruses are typically mild respiratory tract infections.
The COVID-19 variant is a new version of the coronavirus that hasn’t been present in humans before, Blodgett said.
Because doctors and scientists have not seen this variant of the virus in humans before, and because it has been proven to be fatal in a small percentage of those who become infected, it is causing many to react with fear.
“It’s causing a certain amount of severe disease and some deaths, and so that causes us to take a second look at what’s going on,” Blodgett said.
Other coronavirus variants, including SARS and MERS, have been known to be lethal as well.
The COVID-19 virus is primarily affecting the elderly and those who are already immunocompromised or ill, Blodgett said.
“That’s always the case with influenza or other illnesses this time of year,” he said, adding it affects the most vulnerable in the population.
However, this particular variant of coronavirus has not been reported to affect young people the way some other respiratory viruses or flu strains have.
A report by Dr. Josh Redd, chiropractic physician and owner of Red River Health and Wellness, states there currently have been no reported deaths among children under 9 years old.
In his practice, Redd focuses on immune-based conditions and teaches immunology to doctors across the country.
Additionally, recent information from the health department said there are “currently no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the five counties serve by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.”
Those counties are Washington, Iron, Beaver, Garfield and Kane.
Though the virus has not spread to southwest Utah, a St. George couple did contract the virus while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
Much like other illnesses during cold and flu season, COVID-19 is associated with fever, cough, shortness of breath and some gut symptoms, Redd said.
Though Redd said that the COVID-19 mortality rate is fairly low compared to other respiratory viruses and some strains of the flu, it is still important to understand how to stay healthy, prevent the spread of the virus and decipher between what information is real and what is false.
Corona beer virus?
Perhaps one of the stranger myths surrounding the coronavirus is that it could possibly be linked to Corona beer.
In a CNN Business article dated Feb. 28, a study showed that “38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona ‘under any circumstances’ because of the outbreak, and another 14% said they wouldn’t order a Corona in public.”
At the time of the report, stock in the lager’s parent company, Constellation Brands, had gone down 8%, but the report also noted that stocks in general had seen a decline over global coronavirus fears.
When asked about the possible correlation, Blodgett laughed and said that though he had seen information about it on the internet, it simply isn’t true.
“You can’t get it from Corona beer,” he said.
Should you wear a surgical mask?
Standard surgical masks are largely sold out at most pharmacies and stores both locally and across the country, but a surgical mask is not the best defense against the virus anyway, Redd said.
“Masks are not the answer,” he said.
The COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted largely through touch – someone coughs on a surface and someone else touches that surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth, for example – and a mask will do nothing to stop that. Plus, Blodgett said, masks are quickly saturated just by breathing on them.
Masks are not recommended to prevent the contraction of the virus, Blodgett said.
People who should wear masks are those who are already sick with the virus and health care professionals who are treating the ill.
Should you be stockpiling toilet paper?
“We always advocate being prepared for whatever may come,” Blodgett said.
Although, he added, some of the most popular items people stock up on – alcohol and tobacco products among them – are not always the most important emergency staples.
The SWUPD has a brochure called the Plan 9 Pamphlet that advocates for nine things every household should have in case of an emergency.
That said, Blodgett said the idea that the world is ending because of the recent variant of coronavirus has no merit.
“For the vast majority of people – 95% – it’s cold and flu season. (It’ll) make you miserable, but it’s not quite what has been on the news out there,” he said.
What should you do?
As with all coronaviruses, colds and flu strains, the best thing anyone can do to protect themselves and others is to wash their hands, Blodgett said.
“Right now we’re down to basic public health measures,” he said.
Blodgett also advocated for avoiding being around people who are sick, staying away from others when sick and coughing or sneezing into your elbow rather than hands.
Along with Blodgett’s recommendations, Redd advised people to avoid touching their nose, eyes and mouth and to carry some sort of disinfectant wipe to keep commonly used surfaces clean.
Other helpful tips include making sure the body’s natural defense systems are working well by building up the immune system through diet or other supplements and getting proper sleep, Redd said.
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