Where do we go from here?

Jonathan Swinton, USU Extension

As daily deaths resulting from the coronavirus increase worldwide, many in our community are wondering if we are still at risk?

As a health and wellness professor with Utah State University Extension, I would like to share the best objective information I can with Sevier County residents so we can all do our best to protect our families. 

I call your attention to the death data, the most reliable measure we have when evaluating the spread of this disease because we have tested far too few people in the United States to really know how far the virus has spread. 

Death data from the U.S. when compared to three other countries — Italy, South Korea, and Spain — may help give us a picture of what may come.

Keep in mind it typically takes from two to six weeks before the virus takes lives. Hence, the death data shows us what spread may have happened two to six weeks ago. 

South Korea has been by far the most aggressive in terms of testing and isolating. Italy and Spain have been a bit less aggressive, and U.S. has been the least aggressive. We can see that deaths in South Korea have never significantly escalated because of their aggressive response. The other three (including us) were slower to respond and the death data that resulted are following comparable tracks. With our larger population, I expect our death curve in the U.S. will look far worse than Italy’s and Spain’s by the time this is all over because of our larger population, especially if we ease up on our efforts to distance and isolate. 

Do we really need to continue being careful? Absolutely. Again, because we have not been testing well (health experts estimate there are likely 11 times more cases in the U.S. than have been confirmed) and cases are popping up around the state getting nearer and nearer to our county. In addition, cases in California and Colorado are much higher than here, and our county is the center point in the travel and shipping route between those two places. Now is the time to do everything we can to prevent this from spreading here.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To the many businesses, restaurants and workers who have sacrificed their financial well-being to help us all, I say “Thank you.” Your sacrifices have and will continue to save lives. You are heroes. When this is all over let’s go out of our way to repay you with our business when you can return to full operation.  

Some ask why we don’t just let it run through the community like we used to do with the chicken pox. The reason is because the survival rate of those who are at risk of dying from coronavirus is directly related to the number of intensive care beds, physicians and ventilators available. A lack of enough intensive care beds, physicians and ventilators are why so many are dying abroad. If the virus spreads too fast, we won’t have enough of these resources here and more people will die. Our great hospital is key in all of this as it serves us and the counties surrounding us. We may not be able to prevent the virus from eventually reaching our hamlet here. However, if we can slow the spread as much as possible, we will hopefully have enough hospital beds, physicians and ventilators to prevent unnecessary deaths. If we are careless, we will unnecessarily lose some of our loved ones. 

The virus is most dangerous for older adults and those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. Those in this category, or those with family members in this category should be very cautious. In addition, if we end up with positive tests in our community, all of us will need to be even more cautious to prevent any further spread.

The social distancing, working from home and isolating that many are implementing have slowed the spread of this virus, which will hopefully prevent us from that scenario. However, we need to remain vigilant and proactive. Stay home if you can. Only go out if it is absolutely necessary and do so by yourself. Don’t only stay in if you have symptoms, because we now know the virus can spread when people don’t know they have it. Wash your hands, don’t shake hands, avoid touching your face, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep. Only with these proactive approaches will we as a community slow the spread and save those who might die if we don’t. 

It will likely be months before we can ease up on these efforts. Take care of yourself during this time and we will get through it. The lives of our loved ones are worth it. We can do it. We are caring and compassionate people. Let’s lock arm in arm (from a distance) and protect each other by continuing our preventative approach. It is working and will save many of our loved ones if we keep it up. 

Dr. Swinton is a relationship and health expert with Utah State University Extension in Sevier County. If you have questions you would like him to confidentially address in this column, email him at jonathan.swinton@usu.edu.

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