Since returning home to Virginia from Emory, I have had to find creative ways to maintain some of my previous daily habits. Exercise has been very important to me since I was young, so I try to run outside by myself at less popular times of the day, making sure to keep away from others. But even though I maintain proper social distancing during my runs, I see large groups of people congregating or having parties. It’s unsettling to see how people my age refuse to believe that the novel coronavirus is a serious issue. Emory students need to fulfill their responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by truly practicing social distancing.
As the daughter of a physician who currently treats patients with COVID-19, I know that social distancing and following basic hygienic practices are important for my well-being. Given the shortages in N95 masks, surgical gowns and eye gear in hospitals nationwide, my mother sometimes doesn’t have the proper personal protective equipment she needs to care for COVID-19 patients safely. Recently, a doctor in central Kentucky was forced to intubate several elderly patients without a respirator mask or eye gear, lamenting,“not only can I not protect myself, I can’t protect my patients.” Shortages and poor-quality equipment extend far beyond Kentucky. Doctors in Los Angeles recently received expired masks with elastic bands that snapped almost instantly. More health care workers are hospitalized each day, and elderly patients are dying within days of being put on a ventilator. As all this chaos ensues from the lack of supplies, President Donald Trump still believes that “it [is] largely up to governors to deal with the problem.” If doctors at the front lines don’t have adequate protection against the disease, there is no guarantee that any of us are safe.
Given the existence of more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and the inadequate personal protective equipment in hospitals nationwide, it amazes me that people are still not participating in the collective effort to control the spread of the pandemic. A recent video of a 21-year-old woman from Tennessee reveals this thinking., The woman, Ireland Tate, confidently stated that because she thought she wouldn’t contract the virus, she wouldn’t practice social distancing or stay at home all day. Days later, Tate tested positive for COVID-19.
By refusing to adhere to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and mandatory practices enforced by state legislation, Tate and others are encouraging our generation to trust our personal interests over expert recommendations.
According to the CDC, 20% of known fatalities among COVID-19 patients in the U.S. occurred in individuals between the age of 20 and 64 years old. According to New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene statistics updated on April 2, 9% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms are between the ages of 18 and 44. Although elderly populations and individuals that are immunocompromised are even more likely to contract COVID-19, everyone is at risk of catching the virus if they do not take the right precautions to prevent its spread.
Particularly in light of the 2,535 deaths that occurred in Wuhan, China, as a result of the outbreak, I am amazed by the fact that young people today still refuse to relinquish their perceptions of invincibility. Although many young people have exhibited such selfish foolishness, many older adults have done so as well.
The most astonishing example of misguided invincibility comes from Liberty University (Va.), which recently invited their students back to campus and continue classes remotely from there. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. explained his decision to do so as protecting students that cannot return back home, especially international students. In response to media backlash for this move, Falwell made an appearance on CNN’s “New Day,” telling viewers that all restaurants on campus are only providing takeout options, academic buildings have signs posted reminding students to maintain appropriate distances from each other and staff are taking the appropriate precautions to make sure everyone on campus is safe. Falwell still maintained that the virus should not be taken seriously, comparing the virus’s magnitude to H1N1 swine flu virus, stating, “the H1N1 virus back in 2009 had 300,000 Americans in the hospital … [and both diseases are] arguably in the same ballpark as far as how severe [they are].” The two diseases are not similar, however: H1N1 was reported to have a global death rate of 0.02%, while COVID-19’s global death rate estimate as of March 3 is 3.4%, 170 times higher than H1N1.
By teaching the students of Liberty University that COVID-19 isn’t as serious as officials are making it out to be, Falwell is propagating the idea that the virus is only a problem for the elderly and immunocompromised. I find it appalling that Falwell, as an adult and a role model for the thousands of students that attend his university, believes he is in a better position of authority to make such decisions over the recommendations of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and thousands of college presidents across the country. As a Virginia resident myself, I am worried about how his actions can affect my family and friends throughout the state.
Social distancing should not be taken lightly. According to a study published by The Lancet Public Health, Wuhan owes its reduction in the number of new cases of COVID-19 to extreme social distancing and a strictly enforced lockdown. By simulating the outbreak in Wuhan and comparing three different scenarios — no social intervention and no holiday travel, no social intervention and normal travel, and school closures with only 10% of people at work — they found that the third scenario of school closures and prolonged physical distancing was most effective in reducing the median number of cases by more than 92% because it allowed health care systems to expand and respond to COVID-19 damage.
Although a national lockdown was able to reduce infection rates in China, the U.S. government will likely be unable to force us to practice social distancing or adhere to public health guidance. We cannot reap the benefits of this procedure unless all U.S. residents continue to treat the virus as the serious public health concern that it is. If individuals of all ages work together to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, wash their hands consistently and reduce the need to leave their houses unless absolutely necessary, we can control COVID-19. If not, we can expect more than 75% of all U.S. residents to be infected by July 1.
I implore all Emory students, and everyone across the nation, to please social distance if you are able to do so. Now is not the time for jokes and ignorance — this is a time for us to reevaluate our actions and their long-term consequences — they can be lethal.
Sara Khan (23C) is from Fairfax, Va.