Letter to the Editor: Coronavirus—What’s the big deal?

Dear Editor,

As SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that leads to COVID-19 infection] continues to spread across the globe with rapid speed, nations are taking unprecedented measures to reduce the number of infections. The spread of this virus has demonstrated that no one is immune. This virus does not care about your race, income, gender, sexual orientation, or political preference. This virus only cares about one thing – a body to infect. Evidence from Italy and Spain have demonstrated the destruction that this virus can leave if quick decisive action is not taken. As of March 26 the United States is the global leader in total number of coronavirus cases. Several states and major cities have issued the closure of schools, restaurants, and many businesses designated to be non-essential. These measures have sparked anger in many of those that are skeptical of the seriousness of this virus. 

For some, and especially for the people of Tulare County, much of this may seem to be an overreaction. As of March 27, the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases is 20.* Some may be asking themselves: Is it really necessary to take such extreme measures in a county with a population of nearly 500,000 people when only 20 have been infected? The answer is yes. Although only 20 people in the county have tested positive for coronavirus this by no means is any indication that only 20 people are carrying the virus. Current research suggests that many who become infected do not display any symptoms for several days. It is in those several days between infection and the development of symptoms that the virus is most dangerous because it spreads with stealth. Realistically, the number of persons with coronavirus in Tulare County is higher than 20. Although it is extremely difficult to accurately estimate the true number of coronavirus cases in Tulare County, the situation would be significantly worse if stay at home and social distancing measures were not in place. 

There is currently no vaccine to protect against the infection of coronavirus or a cure for the development of COVID-19. The only solution we have at the moment is to reduce the amount of people that become infected and to do that we must reduce the number of people that come in contact with each other. Lifting stay at home orders and not practicing social distancing measures could become catastrophic for Tulare County. The health care infrastructure in Tulare County was already strained before the spread of coronavirus. Among all counties in California, Tulare County ranks 46 out of 58 in the clinical care category according to CountyHealthRankings.org. An influx of persons presenting with coronavirus infections would overwhelm the small number of hospitals in the county in a matter of days or weeks if the virus is allowed to spread without safety measures in place. 

Some believe that because the number of coronavirus cases are low in Tulare County that stay at home orders and social distancing measures should be removed; however, the truth is that if we hope to keep the number of cases in Tulare County low, we must continue to practice social distancing and stay at home orders. Life at the moment is not ideal, but it is undoubtedly necessary. In the hopefully not-too-distant future, this virus will be contained, and life will return to the way you knew it. Until then, I urge you to not underestimate this virus. Follow the recommendations of your local and national public health agencies.

Gabriel A. Benavidez, MPH
Arnold School of Public Health
University of South Carolina
Woodlake native


* EDITOR’S UPDATE: As of press time, Tuesday, March 31, the number of COVID-19 cases in Tulare County has increased to 43 with 1 death related to the virus. Go to “Tracking COVID-19” for free access to the latest figures.

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