Late last week I wrote to urge everyone to take reasonable precautions and not panic at the spread of coronavirus. While more COVID-19 cases have been identified in New York (and the numbers are going to grow in the coming days), the advice from public health officials has not dramatically changed: wash hands frequently, stay home if you are sick, support seniors and other vulnerable people (see below), and don’t panic. 

In a rapidly evolving situation, and one that’s anxiety-provoking, it can be hard to know exactly what to believe. Earlier this week the World Health Organization out a mortality rate that was higher than previous numbers, but it varies widely by location, age, health condition, and public health response. This article in Slate cites data suggesting that while the virus is serious, it will likely not be as deadly as the worst fears. 

It comes down to hygiene and isolation. And in particular, we need to focus on the right people and the right places to make sure our health system has the resources it needs to care for everyone who is sick. Seniors and people with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable, and need our support. 

The CDC is encouraging those who are at higher risk to stay home, avoid crowds, and make sure they have medication and key supplies on hand. If you or a loved one is older, or has a history of heart or lung disease, I encourage you to read and follow the CDC recommendations

This is a good time to talk to potentially vulnerable friends or neighbors, especially those who may not have close relatives, to see how we can help them, especially if they would like to engage in social distancing and need some support getting medication, food, supplies, etc.

Public health officials in NYC are now telling people (more details here):

  • If you have a cold, STAY HOME. If you believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, contact a healthcare provider or call 311.
  • Elderly people and people with existing respiratory conditions should avoid large public gatherings.
  • People who are sick should avoid visiting elderly people and people with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Employers should evaluate their telecommuting policies and expand them if possible, and consider staggering arrival times to prevent public transit overcrowding.

New York City and State are taking serious steps to contain the spread of the virus, with additional resources being deployed for testing and treatment, extra cleaning shifts on subways and buses, and much more. 

The City is hiring school nurses to ensure that there are no care gaps in our schools. And they launched a new communication channel to keep New Yorkers updated, you can now text COVID to 692-692 to get real-time updates.

So far, public health officials have determined that there is not a need to close schools. The evidence we have about the virus so far has shown that young people are not particularly vulnerable. Young people who have contracted the virus have experienced it as relatively mild. School closures put a huge strain on parents, especially those who cannot afford child care or whose children rely on free meals at school. But the DOE did announce this week that absences will not be considered for school admissions for next year (something I support more broadly), so if your child is not feeling well, or you have concerns, you can opt to keep them home without worrying about that impact.

As in most public health crises or natural disasters, the most vulnerable in our society are the most at risk. Gig workers, who don’t have paid sick days or employer-backed healthcare and often can’t afford to stay home, are particularly at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. I’ve called on companies to provide workers with sick days and to take other steps to keep their workers and customers safe. 

A public health crisis is a profound reminder that we need to work together to keep each other safe and help each other thrive. Take reasonable precautions, support your neighbors, take action against discrimination, and stay calm. 

You can read more details about the City’s response here.