Around the world, children and friends are talking to healthy olders who insist they’re not worried about the coronavirus and COVID-19. Just yesterday, I spoke with an 87-year-old-friend who told me, “I will not live my life in fear. If I want to go out to dance and mingle, I will!”
I listened to my friend’s bravado and remembered that only a week earlier, my 30-year-old son had a conversation with me, emphasizing the importance of social distancing. “Coronavirus is not like the seasonal flu,” he told me. “The percentage of people requiring hospitalization and ventilation are much higher.”
His words of counsel, provided days before countries around the world began locking down borders and advising people not to congregate, proved true. And, no matter how we look at the numbers, older people (especially with underlying health issues) are at higher risk of hospitalization and death.
Even if you feel in the best of health, this is not the time to be cavalier. We all must do our part to reduce the spread of the virus. In a study not yet peer-reviewed, outbreak data from clusters in Singapore and Tianjin, China, were used to estimate pre-symptomatic virus transmission. Results showed 48 percent (Singapore) and 62 percent (Tianjin) of transmissions occurred before any sign of symptoms.
The spread of the coronavirus at a Biogen conference held February 24 – 27 at Marriott Long Wharf in Boston, MA, also indicates transmission is possible when no symptoms are present. CNN reported that a coronavirus cluster with 82 cases in MA, at least five in North Carolina and one in Tennessee, was transmitted during the conference by asymptomatic carriers.
“More than half a dozen studies have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection,” CNN reported. Michale Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told CNN, “We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus.”
Olders fortunate to have good health and lead active lives should not be dismissive of social distancing and other protective measures. Anyone could be a carrier and not know it.
For my friend who refuses to live his life in fear, WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agrees. “This is not the time for fear; it is the time for taking action now to prevent infections and saving lives.”
That means hunkering down and following the protocols set out by the CDC and federal, state and local authorities.