February 24, 2020

'Extraordinary measures' to stop coronavirus: No hugging, no kissing—and 14 days sleeping on an office floor

Daily Briefing

    To avoid transmitting the new coronavirus to their family, Eunice and her husband Pierre Chan, who are both doctors in Hong Kong, have taken what some might consider "extraordinary measures," including giving up hugging and kissing their three daughters, Tiffany May reports for the New York Times.

    Our analysis: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks

    About the outbreak

    Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of infection from the new virus, called COVID-19, are fever and lesions in both lungs. Some patients also have reported difficulty breathing, WHO said.

    As of Friday, officials reported more than 77,000 cases of the virus globally, with the vast majority of those cases occurring in mainland China. Officials have reported about 1,200 cases of the new coronavirus outside of mainland China, STAT News reports.

    Officials said as of Friday there have been about 2,350 reported deaths linked to the virus, according to STAT News. Most of those deaths occurred in mainland China.

    In the United States, CDC as of Monday reported 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    Protection from transmission

    In Hong Kong, the Chans have gone to great lengths to protect their daughters from catching the coronavirus, May reports.

    Pierre, a gastroenterologist at a public hospital, examined five patients with the coronavirus this month.

    Despite wearing full protective gear during the examinations and not being required to go into quarantine, Pierre chose to sleep on the floor of his office for two weeks to prevent the potential transmission of the disease to his family, May reports.

    "I don't dare go home," he said, regarding his decision to quarantine himself at work. "I don't even dare go into hotels. You never know: I could be asymptomatic. Maybe a tiny bit of the virus got onto my clothes." He added, "You don't want to affect your family under any circumstances."

    His self-imposed quarantine has ended, and he's returned home to his family. However, he and his wife still take many precautions, May reports.

    "There's no more hugging, no more kissing," Eunice said. "This is especially difficult for my youngest daughter." In addition, Eunice eats meals in a different room from her daughters to limit contact.

    The Chans, who were young doctors when China experienced an outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s, said the SARS outbreak taught them how easily infections can spread during an epidemic. It also taught them how important taking simple precautions can be.

    "We witnessed the aftermath of SARS. We have seen people die," Pierre said. "Now, I know to be afraid" (May, New York Times, 2/20; CDC website, accessed 2/24; Tinker, CNN, 2/21; Branswell, STAT News, 2/21).

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