Coronavirus is Our Future: Alanna Shaikh at TEDxSMU (Transcript)

National health systems would then have been able to stockpile the protective equipment they needed and train health care providers on treatment and infection control.

We’d have science-based protocols for what to do when things happen, like cruise ships have infected patients. And we’d have real information going out to people everywhere, so we wouldn’t see embarrassing, shameful incidents as xenophobia, like Asian-looking people getting attacked on the street in Philadelphia.

But even with all that in place, we would still have outbreaks. The choices we’re making about how we occupy this planet make that inevitable.

As far as we have an expert consensus on COVID-19, it’s this: here in the US and globally, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re seeing cases of human transmission that aren’t from returning travel, that are just happening in the community.

And we’re seeing people infected with COVID-19 when we don’t even know where the infection came from. Those are signs of an outbreak that’s getting worse, not an outbreak that’s under control.

It’s depressing, but it’s not surprising. Global health experts, when they talk about the scenario of new viruses, this is one of the scenarios that they look at.

We all hoped we’d get off easy. But when experts talk about viral planning, this is the kind of situation and the way they expect the virus to move.

I want to close here with some personal advice.

Wash your hands! Wash your hands a lot! I know you already wash your hands a lot because you’re not disgusting. But wash your hands even more.

Set up cues and routines in your life to get you to wash your hands. Wash your hands every time you enter and leave a building. Wash your hands when you go in and when you come out of a meeting. Get rituals there based around handwashing.

Sanitize your phone. You touch that phone with your dirty, unwashed hands all the time. I know you take it into the bathroom with you.

So, sanitize your phone and consider not using it as often in public. Maybe TikTok and Instagram could be home things only?

Don’t touch your face. Don’t rub your eyes. Don’t bite your fingernails.

Don’t wipe your nose on the back of your hand. I mean, don’t do that anyway because it’s gross.

Don’t wear a face mask. Face masks are for sick people and health care providers. If you’re sick, your face mask holds in all your coughing and sneezing and protects the people around you.

And if you’re a health care provider, your face mask is one tool in a set of tools called personal protective equipment, that you’re trained to use so you can give patient care and not get sick yourself.

If you’re a regular, healthy person wearing a face mask, it’s just making your face sweaty. Leave the face masks in stores for the doctors and the nurses and the sick people.

If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, stay home, call your doctor for advice.

If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19, remember, it’s generally very mild.

And if you’re a smoker, right now is the best possible time to quit smoking. I mean, if you’re a smoker, right now is always the best possible time to quit smoking.

But if you’re a smoker and you’re worried about COVID-19, I guarantee that quitting is absolutely the best thing you can do to protect yourself from the worst impacts of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is scary stuff at a time when pretty much all of our news feels like scary stuff. And there’s a lot of bad but appealing options for dealing with it: panic, xenophobia, agoraphobia, authoritarianism, oversimplified lies that make us think that hate and fury and loneliness are the solution to outbreaks.

But they’re not, they just make us less prepared. There’s also a boring but useful set of options that we can use in response to outbreaks, things like improving health care, here and everywhere; investing in health infrastructure and disease surveillance so that we know when the new diseases come; building health systems all over the world; looking at strengthening our supply chains so they’re ready for emergencies; and better education, so we’re capable of talking about disease outbreaks and the mathematics of risk without just blind panic.

We need to be guided by equity here because in this situation, like so many, equity is actually in our own self-interest.

So, thank you so much for listening to me today, and can I be the first one to tell you: wash your hands when you leave the theater.


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