Practical coronavirus tips for civilians — and our leaders

New facts about coronavirus are pouring in from scientists around the globe. We need this information to guide us.

People infected are most contagious before they have symptoms, and some spread the infection widely but never get sick themselves, reports the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. That’s why screening for fever and telling people who don’t feel well to stay home aren’t enough to stop this virus. It’s a danger to merely stand close to someone unknowingly infected.

Traces of the virus can survive for hours on a shopping cart handle or an elevator button, the New England Journal of Medicine warns. The stealthy nature of the virus is one reason New York, California and 18 other states — with half the nation’s population — have imposed lockdowns.

But there is a bigger reason: to prepare hospitals. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo made clear when he shuttered the Empire State, the goal is to slow the invisible spread until hospital capacity can handle the predicted tsunami of patients.

Overseas, hospital shortages are responsible for many coronavirus deaths. In Italy and China, mortality spiked when hospitals ran out of beds, ventilators and medical staff. In some areas of Spain, patients must settle for a space on the hospital hallway floor outlined by tape. There are no beds.

In New York, hospital readiness should be a benchmark, as officials decide when to modify the lockdown to limit its grave costs.

This lockdown is a danger to life, as well. After all, what do you tell the couple who spent 30 years building a small business, now forced to close and lay off employees? If the shutdown goes on long, they’ll face bankruptcy.

America risks curbing the coronavirus only to face soaring deaths of despair — suicides and overdoses — brought on by financial failures and joblessness. Unemployment is headed for 30 percent in the next two months, warns the St. Louis Fed.

Joblessness will cause suffering. Once hospitals are ready, officials need to consider shifting to a new strategy of protecting the highest-risk population — baby boomers, the elderly and people with health problems.

How soon can New York hospitals be ready? It could be a matter of weeks. Hospitals are increasing capacity by canceling elective surgeries and moving more beds into rooms. The feds are building four large temporary hospitals in Old Westbury and Stony Brook on Long Island, Westchester County and at the Javits Center in Manhattan, all predicted to be ready in 10 days. Masks, ventilators and other equipment are en route.

Just in time. New York City has one-third of the nation’s cases. No surprise. It’s the most densely crowded city in the nation. On Monday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, revealed that nationwide, 8 percent of tests are positive; in Gotham, 28 percent.

Even so, once hospitals are ready, the lockdown will be less necessary. Birx announced Monday that 99 percent of Europeans who have died from coronavirus were over age 50. While younger people go back to work, members of this age group must continue to self-isolate, even from their own grandchildren.

Children are adorable transmitters. Of 700 infected Chinese children, 56 percent didn’t show symptoms.

Here’s good news. In rhesus monkeys, the infection produces an immunity to reinfection, a new study shows. If true for humans, once cured, you aren’t apt to get reinfected. Widespread availability of serological tests, which indicate who has had the virus, would allow recovered people to go out, knowing they won’t bring the virus home to others.

Finally, research in France shows that a common anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, may cure coronavirus when used with an antibiotic azithromycin (usually called a Z-Pak). Patients treated with the regimen became virus-free in six days.

President Trump is urging fast-track approval, and Cuomo has ordered a large supply, so hospitals can start testing it. It could be the game changer that gets America back on its feet.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

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