John Colson: COVID-19 is here, but don’t panic |

John Colson: COVID-19 is here, but don’t panic

John Colson
Hit & Run

The operative thought for the day should be this — do not panic, but pay attention and take care of yourself and your loved ones as a worldwide viral emergency continues to evolve.

The fact is, unhappily, that the mounting COVID-19 crisis, which reportedly had infected more than 500 people in 34 states in the U.S. as of Monday morning, has now become a local issue, as well.

I suppose I should ask, before going further, if any local resident reading this has been in touch with (in every sense of the phrase) a lady in her 20s from Australia recently.

And, if you answer in the positive, how are you feeling right now?

If you find yourself suddenly sniffling, coughing and feeling poorly, call a doctor’s office or clinic for tests as quickly as you can, and whatever you do, don’t shake anyone’s hand.

As you may already know, it was reported on Monday that this latest global pandemic has come home to roost in Aspen, at least in a preliminary way.

A woman from Australia, who visited Aspen recently, is now back home and has been confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus (or “new coronavirus,” as it also is known). While here, she reportedly had contact with locals who are now being sought for testing and monitoring for possible infection, according to local, state and federal public health officials. At least some of those who met this unfortunate lady reportedly are showing signs of “respiratory symptoms” seemingly in line with contraction of the virus.

Which means that we in the Roaring Fork Valley already have become the next community in a growing list of petrie-dish locales around the globe. The U.S. death toll from the disease reached 19 on Sunday (while President Donald Trump was golfing in Florida), while around the world health agencies are dealing with a global count of more than 3,800 dead and more than 110,000 confirmed cases in 108 nations.

According to reports, the vast majority of deaths (around 3,120 as of late Sunday) are in China, the country where the virus first appeared.

Proving that this is an equal-opportunity virus, some world leaders have announced they have been infected. In Washington, D.C., there is talk of shutting down the government now to avoid having it shuttered by virus-related absenteeism at some future date.

Trump, of course, has been down-playing the menace of the virus for weeks, at one point predicting that it will “disappear” by April or so. As noted above, he spent last weekend golfing, when he probably should have been making highly public moves to keep tabs on infection statistics and issuing regular bulletins to assure the American public that his administration is paying attention and getting things done.

In a deliciously ironic moment, two of Trump’s big congressional supporters, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., both have self-quarantined themselves after having “interactions” with people who have tested positive for, or are showing symptoms of infection from the virus.

Our country, thanks in part to Trump’s fumbling of the virus-preparedness ball and, more to the point, his earlier decisions to eviscerate the funding of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, was woefully under-prepared for the virus. Too few testing kits, too much political gamesmanship by our germophobe in chief, and too little understanding of how quickly such things can spiral out of control, have combined to put us in considerable jeopardy, as a nation.

But, as I wrote at the beginning of this column, the important thing right now is to not panic.

We need to keep in mind that the death rate from this virus remains relatively low — much lower than the mortality rate of the more common Influenza virus, and lower than the swine flu epidemic of 2009-10, according to health experts.

Granted, such assurances are of little comfort to the loved ones of those who have already died from this nasty little bug, and offer little in the way of advice for those who might still catch it.

The predominant advice from health officials is almost humorously banal — wash your hands often every day, use hand disinfectants if you can find them, stay a few feet (some say six feet is optimum) from anyone coughing or sneezing in your vicinity, and avoid travel to such places as China, Italy or any other country where the infection rate is known already to be high or rising fast.

In fact, it’s probably best to avoid traveling at all by public conveyance, particularly by airplane or cruise ship, for the time being.

The good news, at least for now, is that evidence indicates that this very well may not be the horrifically fatal pandemic that people fear.

But it is serious, and it seems to be showing up just about everywhere, so caution is advised.