A Medical Geographer Breaks Down COVID-19 | Department of Geography and the Environment

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March 14, 2020

A Medical Geographer Breaks Down COVID-19

I'm sure many of you are wondering what's happening with COVID-19. Some of us are asking: Is this much ado about nothing? Others are in full panic mode. My opinion? Neither of those two is a reasonable reaction for several reasons.

  1. We don't know enough about COVID-19. The data we have based on China is problematic because of well-founded concerns with under-reporting; only the very sick were being allowed in the hospitals, which excludes many infected, spreading the virus, but not counted in official statistics. The geographies are also very different - health care systems, cultural practices etc.
  2. The current 14 day quarantine is based on previous coronavirus such as SARS, swine flu etc., but some research suggests that some infected individuals do not develop symptoms until after that period (more here).
  3. The initial CDC test had some problems that had to be fixed so delayed diagnosis may have fueled the US spread. Also initially only people with known potential risk, i.e., previous travel to China, were tested (more here).
  4. COVID-19 appears to be easily transmissible through droplets (from sneezing, coughing etc.), feces and other bodily discharges, and can be spread even by people without symptoms (more here).
  5. Computing the case specific fatality rate is problematic (more here). Nevertheless, we know that COVID-19 is deadly. A fascinating comparison of Italy and South Korea provides very good insights (more here).

So what to do? Just be careful, sensible, maintain basic hygiene- wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands but don't panic. We will get through this, and hopefully, have some fun while reaching our students with new powerful tools. As one of my students noted, "its fun to be a geographer at this time." Just notice how the experience of COVID-19 varies across geographic space (more here). I love working with you and appreciate our family. Let's wash our hands, stay calm, and keep COVID-19 away. Photo Credit: everythinglubbock.com (here).

Dr. Joseph Oppong is a Professor in the UNT Department of Geography and the Environment and Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Academic Associate Dean of the UNT Toulouse Graduate School.