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For healthy people, it may seem unnecessary to stay home and disrupt their regular routines to avoid a virus that, so far, has affected few people on island. Ignoring advisories to avoid crowded places, like bars, parties or church, however, can cost lives in the long run.
Epidemiologists, experts who study the spread of infectious disease, explain that social distancing is not only meant to protect ourselves but also to protect others.
When individuals avoid social contact during pandemic situations, they also avoid being inadvertent carriers of disease.
The idea is to ‘flatten the curve’. In other words, the public can help slow the pace of new infections and ease stress on hospitals by following health advisories.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that when a pandemic disease is new, the human population has little to no immunity to it, which enables person-to-person transmission.
If a disease spreads too quickly, it can overwhelm healthcare infrastructure.
“Widespread transmission of COVID-19 could translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time,” the CDC explains.
“Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and sectors of the transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.”
In the coming months, the CDC anticipates most of the US population will be exposed to the virus.
To stem the spread here in Cayman, officials have emphasised the importance of respecting the temporary ban on public gatherings of 50 people or more.
This ban, announced by Premier Alden McLaughlin on Friday, 13 March, includes sporting events, churches, cinemas, bars and restaurants. It excludes hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets and work spaces, although avoiding any crowded area is advised.
While this announcement will mean cancellation or postponement of many events, it is for the good of public health and for the protection of society’s most vulnerable, including the elderly, those with respiratory and cardiac conditions, and individuals who are immuno-suppressed.
“Coming into close contact with someone who has coronavirus increases the chances of a healthy person catching the disease. Advice from the Ministry of Health is that limiting opportunities for large groups to congregate is one way to halt the spread of the virus,” explained Hazard Management Cayman Islands.
“The strategy aims to delay the peak of confirmed cases in order to lessen the strain on the health sector. A sudden increase in the number of people who need to be hospitalised will add additional pressure to hospitals to respond.”
Evidence has shown that communities which have respected social-isolation advisories have succeeded in slowing the spread of infectious diseases.
McLaughlin has encouraged residents of the Cayman Islands to adjust their social habits, although it may be difficult. “The Cayman Islands is known to be a very close community. Visiting church or attending one of our many community events is an important part of our culture. We all need to change this behaviour in the face of a virus that knows no borders or cultural boundaries,” McLaughlin said.
“I want to emphasise to the public that these measures have been put in place for everyone’s protection. I encourage all church-goers to instead worship at home and keep in touch with friends and family via telephone or social media.”
COVID-19 has now spread to most countries worldwide and the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic on 11 March. But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised in a public statement that not all hope is lost.
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said.
To change the course in Cayman, everyone needs to respect best practices.
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