As predicted, last week’s column about COVID-19 spurred more reader response than any of my previous writings. I received dozens of positive messages, three earnest pleas (and one stern admonishment) to reconsider my travel plans, and one rather harsh critique of my entire career and character. That’s a batting average of around .800, better than I had expected and far more comforting than the public discourse of the past week.
Rumors and hostility are rampant on social media, and even traditional news outlets like network television and newspapers are doubted and disparaged. The Information Age is now in a misinformation stage. It’s no wonder people aren’t sure who to trust or where to turn for facts and advice. It’s also understandable — and obvious — that many respond to fear with knee-jerk emotional reactions.
A few days ago, I had planned to share some of the most outrageous claims and conspiracy theories with those of you who don’t follow Facebook or Twitter. But now, rather than fuel the flames of finger-pointing and polarization, I’ve decided to devote today’s column to words; not fighting words, not cavalier catch phrases, just a few objective, factual definitions of certain words that have become part of our daily vocabulary.
Coronavirus. From the World Health Organization: “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, . . . COVID-19 is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.”
The 2003 SARS outbreak and the more recent MERS (first identified in 2012) were also caused by coronaviruses.
If you want more information on the current COVID-19 pandemic, here’s the WHO link: www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
Isolation and Quarantine. Both are measures taken to help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have (or may have) a contagious disease, but there is a big difference between them. According to the state Department of Health, “Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.”
Social distancing. Social distancing is defined as a public health practice, which helps prevent the spread of contagious disease, by keeping sick people from coming into close contact with healthy people. But even public health officials and experts disagree on what degree of distance is necessary. A week ago, most were recommending that we avoid crowds of 250 or more; now the federal government has lowered that to 10. For some, social distancing simply means avoiding physical contact — no handshakes, hugs, or even foot taps — and maintaining a 6- to 10-foot distance from others in public. Others say the term implies a wider distance: stay out of public places, period.
Fake news. A term popularized by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, the concept has actually been around for more than a century, called “yellow journalism” or “junk news” in the past. Nowadays, people all over the political and social spectrum use the term to dismiss media reports that they find unbelievable or disagreeable.
If you have more faith in local government than in the media, social or otherwise, I suggest getting updates on the COVID-19 situation directly from the horse’s mouth. The state Department of Health website posts regular updates at health.hawaii.gov/docd/advisories/novel-coronavirus-2019/ and you can sign up for emailed updates at health.hawaii.gov/news/covid-19-updates.
The County of Maui encourages signing up for local COVID-19 updates via email and/or text message. Go to mauicounty.gov and click on “Email notifications.”
A couple of words which need no definition but surely warrant mention: Aloha and Kokua — They are as contagious as any coronavirus; let’s make them go viral.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.