Coronavirus in the US: Social Distancing and Educating the Public in a Time of Crisis
The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and for the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this podcast, Dr. Samer Koutoubi, Public Health Program Director at American Military University, addresses the growing threat of the coronavirus in the United States. He discusses how the virus is impacting schools and businesses, current health protocols in Washington State, continuity planning efforts, and what can be done to prepare for the growing number of cases in the U.S.
Listen to the podcast to learn more about short- and long-term solutions for mitigating the spread of the virus including the benefits of engaging in social distancing practices.
Listen to the Podcast with Dr. Koutoubi:
Read the Transcript:
Jessica Stasiw: Hi, I’m Jessica Stasiw with American Military University. Today I’m joined by Dr. Samer Koutoubi, program director of public health at American Military University. Thanks for joining me today Samer.
Dr. Samer Koutoubi: Thank you Jessica for having me.
Jessica Stasiw: So today we’re going to be talking about the newest public health crisis, the Coronavirus. As a global health crisis, how should the US be approaching educating the public, treatment of cases, and keeping people safe from the virus?
Dr. Koutoubi: In general, public health is about protecting and improving the health of our community and the wellness of our people. And there are a lot of avenues we can approach including education. The health and safety of our community is a shared responsibility and we all are in it and we should take that seriously. As the Coronavirus going on right now, global efforts at this time are focused really on containing disparate and mitigating the impact of this virus on our community. Everyone is working together from the federal government working closely with local and state government and public health officials. The response should be multilayers and again, our main goal is detecting and minimizing the impact of theis virus. This virus is an emerging disease and is growing rapidly and we need to do something, so to answer your questions really we have to come up with different plans and two main plans need to be implemented.
I think a community action plan designed to help keep people healthy, reduce the exposure and slow the spread of that disease is something we need to work on and another household plan designed to protect the health and wellness of the individuals and the health of our household members. While we are aware the CDC has developed a lot of guidelines and some of these guidelines start with creating a main plan to talk to people about the need and include them in their plan. So meet with your household people, your relative, your friend, discuss what is needed, what can be done if the outbreak of COVID-19 occurs in the community. One of the very important things we need to do really is thinking about those people who are at greater risk, individuals would preexisting condition, respiratory problems, those who have a compromised immune system. Data tells us that those who have underlying chronic disease and chronic medical condition are at higher risk including older adults who have seen many serious complications.
Dr. Koutoubi: One of the things we also need to do is to get to know your neighbor. If you live in an apartment, condominium or any association, talk to your neighbor about what emergency plan exists or is in place, what resources we have at the community level. Start with healthcare services, support services, or even food if you need. One of the key things we need to do at the household level is to practice preventive and healthcare services and make sure that every individual avoid contact. Avoid contact if you are sick. Stay home and seek medical care if needed. Wash your hand very often with soap for at least twenty seconds, cover your cough and sneeze in a tissue. I mean there are common things we can do and help people understand and educate them with what needs to be done.
Dr. Koutoubi: If you live alone or you become sick, make sure you have given your phone number or email to a loved one or someone or a friend or family members so they can check on you or even your healthcare provider can help you with it. Stay informed your local station. If there’s any specific thing need to be done as we have seen, school are closing and if you are sick, again, contact your workplace, notify them. So there’s a lot of educational things need to be done and I think we are doing it right now.
Jessica Stasiw: You’re located near Kirkland, Washington where the first US deaths were reported. What active measures is Washington State taking on that the rest of the country should be adopting?
Dr. Koutoubi: We all know that Seattle Public Health and King County have a lot of resources. They’re including a lot of web online web pages, a lot of flings. Even the ask question to educate the public about the cone of virus education related to what are the signs, what you need to do, what are the symptoms, how to seek medical evaluation and advise. King County have, as you know, declared the state of emergency on Monday as the number increased and we have nine Coronavirus deaths right now including seven in King County. I think the total number is 21 so far in Washington State, so the King County state of emergency is really designed to take extraordinary measures and to stop the spread of the disease. I know from the newest King County executive Don Constantine mentioned that they are trying to purchase a motel basically and deployed modular units specifically to isolate large number of patients if needed.
Dr. Koutoubi: What else is going on? I believe the Department of Health employee are testing in Shoreline in the lab over 200 specimens every day and I believe also the University of Washington have begun the processing on Tuesday. So we have a lot of things going on including the testing. One of the guidelines I believe has been recommended is do not go to the emergency room unless it’s essential. If you feel that you are coughing, you have fever, respiratory issues, please contact your doctor and if you are sick, stay home and practice personal hygiene. This is key in fact to protect our people.
Dr. Koutoubi: What else is going on, you are aware that North Shore school district closed. Butler High School, In fact with over 22,000 students and over 11 Western Washington schools have closed including Lake Washington, which was closed specifically for deep cleaning and to provide training for staff on how to engage in an online learning environment. All North Shore school district also were closed on March 3rd again to help and permit deep disinfection of those schools. So a lot of things has been happening, Jessica.
Jessica Stasiw: Yeah, being local to the area. I’ve been seeing it myself with the many school closures. And kind of touching back to your comment about avoiding emergency rooms, unless it’s absolutely necessary, how do you see the virus changing public outlook on how to self-isolate for this and for future events?
Dr. Koutoubi: Great. The message is very clear from the CDC. I mean we have to be clear on what does it mean when we say self-isolate. Self-isolate means stay home. In your room, in your apartment. We need to avoid large events, athletic event maybe or social gathering for at least 14 days. Self-isolate mean a lot. We have to limit contact with people living in even your residence and practice self-hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water, and avoid shaking hands and avoid contact with your people if you are sick, keeping facility clean. I mean clean your areas wherever is needed, where the virus may be isolated and maybe in certain areas we need to be careful. One of the most important things I think we need to do is to monitor ourselves, monitor the symptoms. If you live alone, if you feel that you are getting respiratory issues or fever or a sore throat, respiratory problem, please, please go to the doctor and meet with your healthcare professional to find solutions.
Jessica Stasiw: So in terms of business and school operations, what can be done beyond what’s already happening in King County, for example, what can be done nationwide?
Dr. Koutoubi: Let me talk about the school first and then businesses. School has been working closely with public health official and deciding what is the best measure. School has been canceled or a trip abroad has been canceled and the school leaders has been working with local authority to develop contingency plan. North Shore school district, as I mentioned, has been closed, so what happened is they’re taking precautions all the school North Shore district were closed not only to allow disinfection but also to provide training and to engage students in remote learning and online learning if needed.
Dr. Koutoubi: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention have developed certain guidelines for businesses. Employers should encourage really sick employee to stay home. This is key. Employers should tell the employee if you feel sick again, stay home. If you have respiratory issues, don’t come to work. Employee should not defy the supervisors if there is any specific relative who may have such problem or have the symptoms of coronavirus. Ensure that you have sick policies, flexible in place, and work with public health officials really to discuss these policies. If you feel that as an employee who have become sick while at work, please go home. Try to be separated from other employee and try to wash your hands, try to follow the process and make sure that you perform environmental cleaning in your place or wherever you live. We need to make sure that everybody is healthy and employers who have done such recommendation are really in good hands and they will protect themselves and the employee too.
Jessica Stasiw: Great. So what are your students discussing in the online classroom in relation to the virus?
Dr. Koutoubi: Great. In fact, I just checked and there’s a lot of things going on. In our accredited MPH program. We have a class called Quarantine and I’m really excited to see our students discussing current topic relevant specifically following what is going on right now around the country and what measure it has been taken by public health official to deal with the Coronavirus. In our epidemiology class and others students are discussing risk assessment. They talk about the CDC response and evaluating options, discussing research based articles related to Coronavirus. Students are selecting the Coronavirus as a topic of choice to present in certain courses. They are also discussing traditional epidemiological model to deal with infectious diseases. And when we are talking about is the chain of infection, talking about certain processes related to the reservoir, the portal of exit, the mode of transmission, port of entry. So I’m really happy to see that our students are engaged and they are discussing what needs to be done, what has been done currently and taking more and more chances to discuss between themselves, the risk assessment, and is their response adequate and what else can be done. So I’m happy to see that going on right now in our classes.
Jessica Stasiw: That’s great to hear there’s a lot of discussions happening within the online classroom and kind of diving into that a little bit more. With our school being online, we have the advantage of our students being able to be isolated themselves during time of crisis. Like we’re going through right now with Coronavirus, but not every institution has that opportunity. There’s a lot of brick and mortar universities that are operating differently right now in terms of how they’re handling the spread of the Coronavirus. During times of crisis, online education provides that flexibility, but can you share some thoughts as an educator on long-term and short-term solutions during a public health crisis like this one?
Dr. Koutoubi: Great. I mean, let’s face it, many schools have already used online learning and different management system to deliver courses. Although many other schools may lack such technology, school can provide a lot of help. I mean they can provide computers short term, they can provide laptops to their students, they can give them the curriculum already included to continue the education. There could be some type of synchronous or asynchronous education or combination can be used which we have seen is very successful. I think one of that I’ve heard in South Florida, in Miami-Dade, I believe they are giving computers to those students with the curriculum included. So that is very helpful. Locally in Washington State I have seen the letters sent by North Shore superintendent to the family asking everyone to see if they need help. Not everyone have computer access to remote learning. And this support can also provide hardship on many, many different families.
Dr. Koutoubi: So I think the district is asking some of the families to complete certain forms and they can be given a computer or even an internet hot spot connection. The key, what we really need to know is that being an online environment myself and teaching online, I would like everyone to know that moving from classroom brick and mortar to the cloud will provide a lot of flexibility. And this is key for us. I mean flexibility for the teachers and for the students. And I want all the students to know that they’re not alone in this world. I mean they’re not alone at home. Teachers will provide support and we’d be there for them. We are in the 21st century. We have a lot of capability right now. I mean we use Microsoft 365 which has a lot of communication tools including file sharing. We can do video conferencing, we can do real time chat.
Dr. Koutoubi: All of these can replace classroom and they are a great tool to a brick and mortar or face to face class. We do it every day. I mean teachers in classroom can create online discussion. They can use their management system to assign different assignments. Students can collaborate between themselves and complete real time assignment and finish it doing that same day. But again, it’s not for every students. We all know the characteristics. We all know that online model is not for every student, especially at younger ages. Parents who are working may not be at home and they need support and they need a network of support around them. On a positive note we can adapt. I mean in short term as you mentioned we can adapt, you can find solution and as I said early the health and safety of our community is a shared responsibility and we should all take it seriously. On the longer run, I think we will come out with a lot of options. I think we will have integration between online and brick and mortar. We will learn from what we have right now and I think everybody will be happy.
Jessica Stasiw: Great. Thank you for that. And as a public health official, are there any parting words from you for people listening on how to handle the Coronavirus going forward so there’s not more of a panic than there already is in the United States?
Dr. Koutoubi: I mentioned earlier we should not panic. I mean public health officials are doing their job. They are working really hard to protect our community, to protect our people. Our safety is in their hand and they’re doing what they can right now to work with everybody at the government level, local, tribe, public health officials, their response is multi layers as I mentioned, detecting, isolating, testing, considering certain level of treatment, identifying people who are at risk. They are doing their job. So I think my final word is don’t panic. We are here, we are doing our job. We’re doing what we can and if you really need any support, please talk to your physician, talk to anyone who can help and seek that support. Talk to your public health officials. We are here for you.
Jessica Stasiw: Great. Thank you, Samer.
Dr. Koutoubi: Thank you, Jessica.
Jessica Stasiw: This is Jessica Stasiw with American Military University. For more updates and information as we follow the Coronavirus, please follow us on Twitter at AMUDisasterCrew or you can find us on InPublicSafety.com, EDMdigest.com or InHomelandSecurity.com for updates.
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