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What Do You Need to Know About the Coronavirus?

27 Jan, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Bug from China is Already Affecting Sports in the U.S. and its Timing, Just Prior to March Madness, Could Not Be Worse

The coronavirus, the big, bad bug coming out of the central city of Wuhan, in the Hubei Province of China, has been in the news a lot lately – even more so, since the first U.S. cases have been diagnosed. Can it affect sports events?

It already has. Internationally, the Asia and Oceania boxing qualifier for Tokyo 2020 in Wuhan, which was set for this week, was cancelled by local organizers because of a coronavirus outbreak in the city. According to Inside The Games, the IOC boxing task force confirmed the decision from organizers.

The event has been moved to Amman in Jordan and re-scheduled for March. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), meanwhile, moved one of its qualifiers for the women's tournament at Tokyo 2020 from Wuhan to Nanjing, a little under 350 miles away. The Hong Kong Marathon has also been cancelled as has a test event for Beijing 2022 and an esports tournament. The LPGA Blue Bay event on Hainan Island has been cancelled as well. Even the esports industry in China is being affected, with multiple tournaments being indefinitely delayed.

The National Stadium in Beijing, more commonly known as the Bird’s Nest, is among several public buildings to have been closed by Chinese authorities. An ice and snow exhibition event, due to take place there in honor of the Lunar New Year, has also been cancelled. And, notes Inside The Games, German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) President Alfons Hörmann has described the coronavirus as the “greatest threat” to the this year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. (In response, Tokyo 2020 organizers have been running a series of preparedness drills in order to be able to communicate instructions in a variety of languages for any number of natural or man-made catastrophies).

Global tourism has been taking a hit as well with some countries stopping air travel to China altogether and multiple airlines doing so as well. The Disney properties (there are two in the affected area of China and one more under construction) are expected to be affected. Presently, the only deaths from the coronavirus have been in patients in China.

Business Insider notes that more than 20,000 cases were reported in mainland China and the disease had killed more than 400 people there at last count. The first U.S. case, reported in late January, involves a Washington state resident in his thirties. He was listed in good condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Snohomish County. Six cases have been confirmed in the U.S. in Illinois, Arizona and California. None of those patients died.

NBC News has reported that other patients — all people who'd traveled recently to Wuhan,  are in isolation at local hospitals. Three cases were confirmed last week: one in Maricopa County, Arizona; one in Los Angeles County, California; and one in Orange County, California. Other possible cases have been reported in other states, as far East as one that was recently reported in Maryland. All of the patients will be evaluated case by case before they're released.

Meanwhile, the number of suspected cases in the United States has been growing rapidly, with 36 states with cases under investigation with 92 suspected cases awaiting testing.

The coronavirus is having an impact on U.S. sports as well. A basketball game between Central Michigan and Miami (Ohio) was postponed after an Ohio student suspected of having the virus was quarantined while testing was going on. A second game, against Western Michigan, was also postponed. The timing, just on the cusp of March Madness, could not be worse. With crowds traveling to indoor arenas around the country, and the fact that the virus has initial symptoms similar to any other cold or flu, there is the potential for infected individuals to unknowingly spread the coronavirus.

By way of definition, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold (miserable at worst but tolerable to a healthy person) to more severe diseases such as pneumonia to Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. They were named because of their appearance; all have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common signs of infection with coronavirus (known to researchers as 2019-n Cov) include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.   

China reportedly had some link between the coronavirus and a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting the virus is now being transmitted from person to person, although how it is spread – and how readily – remains unclear. The latest situation summary updates are available on CDC’s web page 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, ChinaHere are the latest updates and maps of the virus’s spread.

So what do we need to know about how to prevent the virus, particularly during the indoor sports season? Until we know more about the bug, proper precautions are a bit similar to those involving the flu or any other virus. When person-to-person spread has occurred with MERS and SARS, it is thought to have happened via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. Spread of SARS and MERS between people has generally occurred between close contacts.

“It’s important to note that how easily a virus spreads person-to-person can vary,” notes the CDC. “Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. It’s not clear yet how easily 2019-nCoV spreads from person-to-person. It’s important to know this in order to better understand the risk associated with this virus.”

China has been taking its own steps to stop the virus from spreading. USA TODAY notes that the Wuhan local government temporarily canceled all flights and trains from the city and closed all public transportation, including the local and long-distance bus services as well as the subway and ferry. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the city asked people not to leave Wuhan without specific reasons. Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan ordered an all-out effort to curb the virus outbreak.

Trish Perl, a coronavirus expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said health officials should take seriously the threat of the virus spreading across the U.S. 

"We don't know the magnitude of this outbreak, but we know from previous outbreaks that coronaviruses can spread quickly," Perl told USA TODAY. "Some people may not know they're infected."

The U.S. is already staggering from a heavy outbreak of the flu; fortunately, this year’s flu vaccine seems to be working to prevent individuals from catching it once they are inoculated.

An article in The Points Guy reports  that travel is one of the ways disease is spread. A study referenced in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article found that you have up to a 20 percent higher chance of catching a cold on a plane — and 100 times more, according to the Journal of Environmental Health Research. In fact, so many passengers on a 2008 flight from Boston to Los Angeles contracted norovirus after a sick passenger boarded, the plane made an emergency landing three hours into the flight.

So, TPG says, if you are preparing to fly and want to lower your risk for just about any disease this flu season, there are steps to take. These include the following (some of which can be enlarged upon for use in arenas and other sports areas):

Not taking a seat next to a sick passenger: We’re looking at you, open-seating airlines. For those with assigned seats, it may be worth it to ask a flight attendant for a different seat.

Not using the bathroom: Okay, it’s admittedly not feasible on long flights but on short hops, staying out of the rest room is one more way to avoid germs. After all, this is a room where EVERYONE has touched the toilet, handles, door, faucets and more. (If you need to use the bathroom, you can always use a paper towel to touch these surfaces.) Of course, similar precautions should be observed when using airport rest rooms.

Keeping your hands clean (if you can’t wash them, use hand sanitizer) and keep them away from your face and the hands and faces of others.

Staying hydrated: Bringing your own reusable water bottle isn’t a bad idea, though it will have to be empty to get through TSA; however, many airports now have chilled water dispensers where you can fill them.

Giving your body plenty of ammunition: Don’t overlook the importance of a multivitamin in helping keep up your immunity. Vitamin C is always good, and probiotics are as well. If the worst happens and you feel yourself getting symptoms, zinc lozenges are a great way to stop a cold in its tracks.

Keeping the air vent on: The more circulation in the plane, the better. The Points Guy notes, “While you might think that sitting in recycled air for hours could cause you to be sick, keeping your air vent on can actually prevent it. In fact, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters found on planes remove at least 99.97 percent of any airborne viruses and bacteria. That air is also getting refreshed about 20 times per hour. An office only gets refreshed about 10 times.”

“There’s been some research that showed that using the overhead air vent, directed straight downward, can create a cone of protection,” says New York state-based Dr. Frank Contacessa. “It can actually prevent airborne germs from getting close to you. The airflow from the vent can help to ward off another passenger’s sneeze germs.”

Trying not to handle things everyone else has touched – at least until you wipe them down: The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours, so wiping down your trap table and latch, seat belt buckle, overhead bins, flush button in the bathroom and other surfaces, can help. Antiseptic wipes are good.

Wearing a face mask: If you’re really worried, a medical face mask can help cut down on the potential for inhaling germs when someone sneezes or coughs nearby. While nothing can absolutely guarantee you won’t catch a bug while traveling, an N95 face masks filter out 95 percent of particles, according to the CDC. TSA notes, “You may wear medical masks during security screening. However, please remove the mask when you arrive at the checkpoint until the TSA officer has verified your identity.” (Just note, however: The mask is not a guarantee you won't catch germs).

Oh, and if you're waiting on promotional merch that is being shipped over from China, you can always take comfort from an article in Promo Marketing Magazine, headlined, "No, Coronoavirus Won't Spread Via Promo Products Shipped From China (But It Will Likely Casuse Some Production Delays.)" 

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