Public Panic Over COVID-19 Harms Vulnerable Communities

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by Christie Patient |

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The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is slowly working its way around the world. Along with the spread of this new strain of coronavirus, fear and misinformation have been making the rounds. Since the COVID-19 virus has made its way to the States, the uncertainty and unknowns about the disease have sown seeds of fear among citizens.

At the time of this writing, 15 states have reported just over 100 cases, and nine U.S. citizens have died from the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are doing their best to provide up-to-date, factual information about the disease, but paranoia is being stoked — even if unintentionally — through the media and the grapevine.

As a resident of Washington state, where all the COVID-19 deaths have occurred thus far, I have already seen the effects of the herd reacting in fear. On Sunday, several days after the first death was reported, I found myself in standstill traffic in a Costco parking lot. I spent 30 minutes trying to get into and out of the parking lot because there was no way to turn around and no spots to park in.

I was on a job photographing products for a marketing company, so I routed myself to another Costco. At the time, I didn’t know about the deaths in King County, or that COVID-19 paranoia was to blame for the grocery store gridlock. When I arrived at the second Costco store, it was the same story.

My local Costco has been ravaged. A sign posted on the door reads: “We are currently SOLD OUT of the following items: all brands of toilet paper, Arrowhead water, Glaceau Smartwater, all Kirkland Signature water, Kirkland Signature paper towels, Kirkland Signature surface wipes, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Clorox Bleach, Clorox Clean-Up, hand sanitizer, Lysol Disinfecting Spray, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, all canned vegetables, Cup Noodles, canned chicken noodle soups, baked beans, all 25-lb bags of rice, and Spam.”

Apparently, the apocalypse is upon us.

Fear is driving people to extreme behavior. Most frustrating is that they are acting without researching reputable sources to learn about the disease. Hoarding disinfectants, bottled water, and nonperishable foods is only one aspect. People are also buying stores out of disposable medical masks, as well as reusable N95 masks that my mom and so many other transplant patients use to protect themselves daily. Healthy people who think they need masks to protect themselves are robbing the people who need them of those resources.

Currently, the CDC does not recommend that people use masks unless they already are sick, have underlying conditions, or work in healthcare. To avoid contracting and spreading the disease, the CDC advises the public to practice good hand hygiene and to avoid people who are sick. Call me crazy, but I don’t think entering a building when its parking lot is completely full is the best way to avoid coming in contact with potentially sick people.

This may be a new strain of coronavirus, but for most of us, it isn’t as scary as the rumors are making it sound. Its symptoms resemble the common cold, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The risk of the illness leading to a decline in overall health or to death is low. A study in China stated that 16 percent of cases are considered “serious,” and 2 percent of cases have resulted in death. Many of those cases are people who have underlying conditions.

I am adamant about the general public being more cognizant of the information they are consuming about COVID-19. I am also worried about people living with underlying conditions. People with pulmonary fibrosis are at a higher risk because of their decreased respiratory function. Plus, they’re often treated with immunosuppressant medications. Even those who have overcome pulmonary fibrosis by way of a lung transplant are at risk due to chronic immunosuppression.

I can sit here and write about how the general public should chill out about coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t also texted my mom about COVID-19 six times this week. I am not her caregiver anymore, but I do still care a lot about her health, and I want to make sure she’s taking precautions.

I felt compelled to write about this subject this week to bring awareness to the facts about COVID-19. The PF community and many other rare disease communities to which I am now intimately linked are at risk.

I want the public to know the facts and make intelligent choices about this outbreak. I want those of us without underlying conditions to take responsibility for the people who are at a higher risk by following guidelines and leaving medical supplies for those who need them most. Oh, and go wash your hands!


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


John Petino avatar

John Petino

I am a 75 yearly male with IPF, diagnosed in 2017 and have likely had the disease years prior to that - gone undiagnosed. I keep reading or hearing don't hoard masks or you don't need a mask unless you are sick or, as stated in this article, you have an underlying condition.
Even here in the PF News why are we, IPF patients, not being told flat out that we do need an N95 mask. We have an underlying condition. I am confused about this point.

Christie Patient avatar

Christie Patient

Hi John,

Thank you for reaching out. You are right, there is a lot of confusing information out there and I apologize if I added to the confusion with my post. Hopefully I can clear it up here.

First I'd like to say that as a Columnist for BioNews Services, my posts come only from my personal perspective and experiences. I am not a News journalist, or science writer. I am also not a medical professional, and therefore cannot technically give you medical advice--it is not my place to 'flat out tell [you] that [you] need an N95 mask'. That is something you should discuss with your doctor, or keep an eye out for updates about in our "News" section. However, I strive to spread factual information in this and all of my columns. This includes recommendations for protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19 for vulnerable communities. All of my information was gathered from CDC or WHO websites, though, in the two weeks since this was written, things may have changed.

All of that said, as someone with an underlying condition, you should be taking extra precautions, always, to protect your pulmonary health--especially if you are on immune-suppressing medications. The recommendations at this time, at least in areas where the virus is prevalent are to socially isolate/self-quarantine to avoid coming in contact with the virus. People can be asymptomatic and still carry and pass on the virus, so the best prevention is to stay home. Since you do have an underlying condition, you should wear a mask any time you are in public, and regularly wash your hands. I would advise a call to your pulmonologist to get more information on what measures you should take given your health status, but I can tell you that my mom and all of the other lung transplant and IPF patients that I personally know are currently isolating at home, and wearing an N95 mask if they can't avoid going out.

I hope this helps to clear up any confusion. I know these are scary times and I want people in the PF community to know that I am in your corner. I want those of us with typical immune systems to take more responsibility for our vulnerable neighbors and make smart decisions to protect the community... to include not hoarding medical supplies, and choosing to isolate until this blows over.

I wish you the best in these difficult times, and know that you have a community of PF patients and caregivers here (in "Forums") who are always happy to commiserate and share information on safe protocols for you.


Christie Patient avatar

Christie Patient

I would like to mention that I've been cringing over my choice to use the words "chill out" ever since this was published. The general public is right to be very concerned about this virus. I meant it in regard to hoarding behaviors, and acting on anxiety rather than awareness, but it could understandably be taken as "this is nothing to worry about." That is not what I intended, so I just wanted to make a note of it here in case anyone reads the comments. Please keep taking it seriously. I am. Stay safe out there.


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