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This week, I’m writing to you about a rapidly evolving situation that could have a significant impact on all of us, both personally and professionally: COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus. The latest update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is direct and clear: “Americans should be prepared for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in their community. The community can take measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in getting ready and staying healthy… Until a vaccine is developed, community-based interventions such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely can help slow the spread of COVID-19.  Individuals can practice everyday prevention measures like frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes.” Regular updates from the CDC are available here:

It is critical that we stay well-informed about the crisis and take responsible precautions to avoid exposure in our communities as much as possible. This includes the following steps recommended by the CDC, which are useful for avoiding all communicable diseases:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash;
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth;
  • Frequently cleaning and disinfecting touched objects or surfaces, like banisters, countertops and door-handles;
  • Staying home when sick, except to get medical care, and
  • Washing your hands frequently, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.

The CDC has prepared a poster that is a useful reminder of these precautions, which can be printed and displayed in public areas. We have printed the poster at NHC, which is on display in our break room – right next to the sink and soap. It’s not very dramatic, but nearly all medical professionals agree that the most effective thing we can do is wash our hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to say the alphabet).

NHC will host a webinar on this subject later this month. It will allow you to hear about the virus from a public health point of view, with a specific focus on multifamily housing managers and employers.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and as fears grow, the amount of misinformation will inevitably grow with it. One comparison frequently heard, most recently by acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, is that fewer people have died of COVID-19 than die from the influenza during a typical flu season. While this is currently true, it is highly misleading. The mortality rate for influenza is approximately one one-hundredth of one percent. As reported by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), COVID-19, has had an average mortality of about 2.5 percent. However, we do not know how accurate disease reporting has been in China, if this mortality rate will persist, or how it will be impacted by the availability of high-quality medical care.

What we do know, for certain, is that there is a lot we don’t know. New information is coming out every day, and it’s important to stay on top of it. The CDC has an excellent FAQ page, which is updated as new information becomes available. When asked, sometimes the most valuable answer is the least satisfying but most accurate: “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out and let you know when I do know.” That’s our commitment to you.

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