Janine Everett

LNP Op-ed columnist Janine Everett, PhD, RN, is director of the Public Health Program at Franklin & Marshall College.

With COVID-19, we currently face a threat to public health that is unlike anything that has happened in our lifetimes.

This threat comes during an age when information may be shared instantly and widely through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and without any valid way of us knowing what is supported by science and facts, and what is harmful misinformation that can lead people to do unsafe things.

News reporting on COVID-19 is abundant, and the quality of information may vary depending on several factors. At a time when it would be in the best interest of everyone to be on the same page, bias and politics continue to influence messaging to readers and viewers.

I am writing this to do my part, as a public health professional, in helping everyone understand a few very important things about this virus. COVID-19 is a huge threat to personal and public health, the likes of which have not been seen in the U.S. in over a century. As of Tuesday, there were more than 41,000 confirmed cases and 544 deaths nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Pennsylvania, we have 851 confirmed cases, including 10 in Lancaster County (and many more in surrounding counties).

These numbers are vastly underreported and will rapidly rise. Because we have limited testing available nationwide, the number of positive tests barely begins to show us the entire picture. Many people are COVID-19 positive and cannot be tested because of limited resources. This includes people who are actively ill and also people who are not ill but are carriers — people who feel just fine but are infected and can infect others without knowing it.

Some of the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and to keep yourself and loved ones safe — have been shared by the CDC, World Health Organization and National Institutes for Health, along with our U.S. surgeon general and the members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Among other things they encourage us to practice are “social distancing,” avoiding travel outside of the home unless it is absolutely necessary, avoiding large gatherings, and maintaining a distance of 6 feet between ourselves and those outside of your home. (Other recommendations are widely available and address handwashing, not touching your face with unwashed hands, covering coughs/sneezes, regular cleaning and more.)

Social distancing is simple in theory, but it can feel incredibly hard to do. Humans are social beings, and being told we cannot interact with the world around us in the usual ways feels stressful. Connecting via phone or video chat or on social media platforms won’t be the same, but it can help provide a sense of connection. Many organizations and groups are holding online meetings, and churches are broadcasting services so congregants may continue to attend remotely.

You also can go out for a bike ride, jog, hike or even take a simple walk around the neighborhood, provided you maintain your distance (6 feet) from others you see. By social distancing, you are protecting not only yourself and your loved ones, but also others in the community. That includes those at highest risk for complications — including death — from the virus.

Many of us have jobs or businesses that require us to be there in person. It’s a stressful time for health concerns, and for many it’s a stressful time for economic or financial reasons. Small businesses are taking a big hit right now, and Congress is debating what to do about aid for those in need as I write this.

Some — but not health care professionals — are suggesting that the economic risks related to social distancing are greater, and more real, than the health risks presented by COVID-19. That is frightening on several levels and simply not true. Financial concerns and the economy may be addressed in many ways, but there is no way to restore human lives lost.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Monday in an interview that “this week it’s going to get bad. … We really, really need everyone to stay home.”

Adams also echoed Dr. Anthony, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, in saying that “everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. You could be spreading it to someone else, or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay home.”

Our unwavering priority must be to protect and maintain the health of everyone at risk — everyone. Please take this seriously. Please be thoughtful about where you find your information about COVID-19, and don’t share unreliable information with others.

Please follow CDC guidelines (found at cdc.gov). We can get through this, but only by working together and caring for our neighbors as well as ourselves. I know that my fellow Lancastrians are up to the challenge!

Janine Everett, Ph.D., RN, is director of the Public Health Program at Franklin & Marshall College.