Two months after the first discovery of COVID-19, the specific strain of coronavirus that surfaced at the end of 2019 in China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a possible pandemic. It’s one that could cause “severe” disruptions in the United States.
“The difference between COVID-19 and other typical coronaviruses is that it seems to be causing more episodes of pneumonia and people are getting a lot sicker,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at the University of Colorado Hospital.
The announcement was met with some panic – people began discussions of stockpiling.
“They said to be prepared, and I think preparation is something we do all the time. We just don’t think of it in the context of an infectious disease,” Dr. Barron said.
Barron says that in order to prepare, you don’t need to do any more than you normally would preparing for something like a big storm.
“Have a plan be ready to go so that you have a baby sitter or someone that needs help from you has another access.”
Dr. Barron said she does not foresee Americans facing a shortage of food or medications at this time.
“The biggest thing that’s already been affected is our ability to travel. We live in a global world. People are on planes, trains and going places all the time,” she said.
The CDC also said Americans should prepare for what’s called “community transmission.”
“When you start seeing cases in the community, you start having a lot more community transmission where it’s not just associated with travel. I think there will be disruptions in the sense that big events that were planned might start to get canceled. Schools may or may not cancel for a certain period of time if there’s a certain number of cases in the school, just like we do now with norovirus or when there’s big outbreaks of flu,” Dr. Barron said.
This could also have an impact on the goods available in the U.S., as part of the global market.
“The term pandemic means it’s worldwide,” said Dr. Alex Padilla, a Professor of Economics at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Investors are very worried because again the supply chain is very complex, which means if it becomes a pandemic, it becomes much more difficult to produce goods that are complex and assembled and produced in different countries.”
“Certainly, supply chain is always an issue in a pandemic event. We saw this back during H1N1 in the U.S, and saw it during the Ebola crisis, where personal protective equipment became short in supply,” said Patrick Conroy, the Director of Safety at UCHealth. “I don’t know if any country could ever be truly fully prepared for the next novel virus or pandemic. We certainly have a framework in place.”
At the University of Colorado Hospital and other health facilities across the U.S., they have special pathogens units where they can take high-risk patients. They use special equipment to keep any infections from spreading.
“The airflow helps keep any germs or bacteria from entering the suit,” said Mark Yoder, Nurse Manager for the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Colorado Hospital. He displayed how nurses stay protected in airtight suits while caring for infectious patients.
Like with any illness, Dr. Barron said, there are ways you can prevent yourself from getting sick, like carrying hand sanitizer and washing your hands often.
“I think preparation is always a good idea. Having things that are critical to your needs is always a good idea. I think the situation is very fluid. It could change very rapidly,” she said. “Don’t let the headlines put you in a state where you think you can’t do anything.”
“People confuse pandemic with Zombieland. They think the entire world is turning into Zombieland and everything is coming to a stop. That’s not the way it is,” Dr. Alex Padilla said.