Coronavirus in Sacramento? Keep calm, trust science and eat some local Chinese food

The new coronavirus has reached Sacramento, creating serious concerns. Here are two important things we can all do to help stop its spread: keep calm and trust science.

Face masks? Forget them. Buying face masks may only hurt efforts to contain the virus’ spread. Want extra protection? Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose and mouth.

Hand sanitizer is always a good idea. After all, it’s still flu season.

Our community’s best defense against the virus is to avoid misinformation and panic – despite the understandable temptation to overreact now that the new coronavirus is here.

On Wednesday, local health officials learned “that a Solano County resident receiving care at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento tested positive for coronavirus, representing the first confirmed case of the virus in the U.S. that is of unknown origin,” according to a Sacramento Bee story by Michael McGough.

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In addition, it appeared that a student living in a dormitory at UC Davis had shown “mild symptoms” of coronavirus. The sick student and two others were placed in isolation, according to a Bee story by Sawsan Morrar. But it turned out to be a false alarm after tests revealed that the student did not have the virus.

Distressing? Yes. But here’s some perspective: Your chance of getting the virus known as COVID-19 is still very low. The typical flu causes more harm every year. For instance, the coronavirus has resulted in less than 3,000 deaths so far, mostly in China. In a bad year, the flu can kill over 600,000 people worldwide.

No one should downplay the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization upgraded to “high risk” on Friday. But by keeping a cool head and taking cues from real doctors, we can protect public health without wasting money or creating needless anxiety.

For example, the vast majority of people don’t need face masks. Yet many people have rushed to buy them, creating a face mask shortage. At this point, however, only doctors and infected people really need face masks. The mask shortage only hurts efforts to contain the virus.

Needless fears may also be sparking a resurgence of prejudice. The streets of Chinatowns are empty and Chinese restaurants report a downtick in business, apparently due to coronavirus fears.

Hong Kong Islander owner Kandy Lau said her restaurant’s daily revenue has dipped 20 to 30 percent from when the first local coronavirus case was reported last Friday,” wrote The Bee’s Benjy Egel. “Part of that has to do with customers going out to eat less during tax season, but worries about the virus played a role as well.”

Such race-based fears reflect prejudice, not science.

“This virus infects humans … All of us, not people of a particular ethnicity or race,” said Ron Klain, the former Obama White House staffer assigned to respond to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 who hosts a new podcast called “Epidemic.” “When you have an epidemic like this, there’s inevitably discrimination, stigmatization, ostracization. And we’re starting to see that already. We all need to make a personal stand against that.”

Here are some smart steps you can take immediately:

Use soap and warm water to wash your hands frequently. Get your information from official government sources like the Centers for Disease Control or your local newspaper. Use hand sanitizer, but avoid fake scam products that claim to guard against coronavirus.

And – why not? – make it a point to eat at your favorite local Chinese restaurant this weekend.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the UC Davis student tested negative for coronavirus.