Why washing your hands could be your only hope

As Coronavirus spreads across countries, health and safety precautions are put into place.


Depiction the novel coronavirus. Imagine provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Agnes Gonzalez, Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Originating in Wuhan, China, 2019-nCoV  has claimed the lives of over 1,500 people in just a matter of weeks, with the death toll continuing to rise.

2019-nCoV is a respiratory illness, most commonly known as the “Novel Coronavirus.”

The U.S State Department has issued warnings and a travel ban to China in hopes of preventing further spread to the U.S.

But that has not stopped the virus from spreading. Now, this respiratory illness has spread globally, causing panic among many.

Dr. Cheryl Bergman, interim dean at the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Health Sciences and professor of nursing, recognizes that such a panic can be common during these epidemics.

“Viruses and infections, especially a new one and one without known treatments, is a scary situation for all,” said Bergman in an email interview. “When death is associated with the condition, fear is heightened, and some individuals become irrational. All of us should remain as healthy and proactive as possible.”

There have been 15 positive cases of the virus in the United States across six states. So far, Florida has been lucky enough to avoid the virus, but government officials are still on guard. JU has also implemented precautions to prevent the possibility of the virus outbreak on campus.

Senior vice president and dean of students, Kristie Grover, has sent out an email to all students outlining helpful tips and good practices, such as hand-washing, avoiding contact with people who are sick, and coughing or sneezing into the elbows.

Bergman further emphasizes the importance of keeping up with proper hygiene practices.

“As with most viruses and infectious processes, the best precautions are to avoid individuals with symptoms of the condition and to practice good hygiene,” said Bergman. “Washing your hands is the number one way to help reduce spread. The recommendation is washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”

The Novel Coronavirus most often is spread by infected humans through droplets from coughs and sneezes, similar to how other respiratory pathogens are spread.

“With the Novel Coronavirus, there’s really not much evidence that it’s from sneezing,” said Dr. Andy Ouellette, a professor of biology and chemistry at Jacksonville University. “So it’s mainly coughing.”

Ouellette has been working with his students to track the spread of the coronavirus since earlier this year.

Compared to other viruses and diseases, the coronavirus has the most in common with two other epidemics, Serve Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS.

SARS first appeared in 2002 in China and spread worldwide, killing 774 people within a few months. The virus was contained rather quickly and no known reports have been made since 2004.

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is responsible for claiming the lives of 851 people so far. It has since spread to other countries, including the United States.

Some coronavirus symptoms can be easily confused with the common cold and influenza, which can make it difficult to determine if someone is truly infected. Some symptoms reported are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Originally, types of coronaviruses were transmitted amongst animals, such as camels, cattle, cats and bats and rarely infected people.

“SARS jumped the species barrier and infected humans,” said Ouellette. “Then it got really bad when it went from human-to-human.”

All in all, JU has taken proper precautionary measures in hopes to prevent a coronavirus outbreak on campus and to keep students safe.

“I’m not really scared,” said Gaby Giron, a student in Ouellette’s class, “I just say wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and keep away from people who are sneezing and coughing.”

Bergman says the public should check updates as they are given and ensure that the information given is from a reliable source.

“Heightened awareness and education about the coronavirus should be the focus for the general population,” said Bergman. “Experts are hard at work to provide the most up-to-date facts and guidance to the public on the virus. We are a mobile, global society so it is very important to be aware of what is occurring in the world but to remain practical and seek out valid and reliable information.”