More than 80,000 people worldwide infected by coronavirus. Number of fatalities: 3,000. Are these reasons to panic? No. Are they reasons to take precautions? Absolutely.
The world-renowned Wadsworth Center — a research-intensive public-health laboratory in the state Department of Health in Albany — is partnering with hospitals to expand testing capacity to 1,000 coronavirus tests per day statewide. The Wadsworth Center will instruct hospitals how to replicate the state’s test and purchase equipment to develop and validate the results.
“We are instituting a new cleaning protocol at our schools, in our public transportation and elsewhere to contain any potential spread,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in a briefing on coronavirus. “This isn’t our first rodeo — we are fully coordinated, we are fully mobilized and we are fully prepared to deal with the situation as it develops.”
Not our first rodeo, indeed. New York has dealt with health threats like this one many times in the recent past. Avian flu, Ebola, SARS, MRSA, the 1968 Hong Kong flu and 2009 swine flu outbreaks have come and gone. New York and its people prevailed each time.
The lessons learned from previous infectious disease outbreaks, including Ebola, Zika, H1N1 and SARS, have greatly informed and improved the hospital community’s current planning, including Columbia Memorial Health. To their credit, New York’s hospitals are smartly conserving their supplies, including N95 respirators, surgical masks and other personal protective equipment.
This doesn’t mean we should stop washing our hands often with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home if we’re sick, covering coughs and sneezes, or cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces, all common-sense precautions even in the absence of coronavirus. This is not a time for panic. It’s time for clear, rational thinking. Panic will be as harmful to us as coronavirus itself.