Elon Answers: Confronting coronavirus in our community

This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.

COVID-19 is a new virus that is spreading rapidly throughout the United States and the world.

Jen Kimbrough, assistant professor of public health studies

Public health experts believe the virus could infect between 20 and 60 percent of the population over the next year. The actual percentage will depend on how well we limit the spread of the disease.

While most people who get the virus have mild to moderate symptoms, the illness can cause severe pneumonia and even death, especially among the elderly and those who have underlying medical problems like diabetes or heart disease or lung disease.

The fatality rate of COVID-19 is significantly higher than similar viruses like the flu, and no one has natural immunity, which is why the entire community needs to act to protect the population.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing means taking safety measures to avoid contact with other people. Since it can be hard or impossible to know whether a person has the coronavirus, the best way to keep the virus from spreading is for everyone to practice social distancing. The current recommendations include:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds and public places.
  • If you must be in public, keep a distance of 6 feet away from other people.

Why does it matter?

While most people do not develop serious symptoms, about two out of every 10 infected adults is likely to need hospital care. The number is higher among senior citizens. By avoiding contact, you can prevent yourself from catching and spreading the virus to others.

Imagine if 20 percent of Alamance County adults — about 25,000 people — got sick with coronavirus at the same time. Even if only two of every 10 sickened needed hospital care, that would be about 5,000 people, and we would have a difficult time finding the resources to care for them. Alamance Regional Medical Center currently has 238 beds, and a small number of those beds are for critically ill people.

The best solution is to slow down the spread of the disease through social distancing. If we work together to slow down the virus, the care will be there when people need it.

What else can I do to keep my family safe?

It might help to pretend that you’re already infected. Act as if you’re contagious and want to avoid spreading illness.

The most important thing you can do is wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Thoroughly washing hands for at least 20 seconds will remove any germs you may have picked up, and prevent spreading the virus.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Use hand sanitizer if you cannot use soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • When you go to the store, wipe the cart handle before and after use.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue (then throw away the tissue and wash your hands).

Most important, keep calm and informed. For updates or more information, visit www.alamance-nc.com/covid19 or www.elon.edu/u/coronavirus/.

Jen Kimbrough is assistant professor of public health studies at Elon University. 

To submit a question to our team of scientists, visit tinyurl.com/eloncovid19, email us at eloncovid19@gmail.com, or use social media with hashtag #eloncovid19. Answers will be published as available in the Times-News, at www.thetimesnews.com, and on Today at Elon at www.elon.edu/u/news.