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Best way to avoid Coronavirus: Wash your hands

By Elisabeth Rosenthal | Kaiser Health News | 1/31/2020, 3:24 p.m.
Americans are watching with alarm as a...

Remember, by all indications SARS was a deadlier virus than the new coronavirus circulating now. So keep things in perspective.

In time, during the SARS outbreak, the government shut down theaters and schools in Beijing, as it is doing now in many Chinese cities because these viruses are more easily transmitted in such crowded places.

Our kid’s school instituted a bunch of simple precautionary policies: a stern note to parents reminding them not to send a child to school who was sick and warning them that students would be screened for fevers with ear thermometers at the school door. There was no sharing of food at lunch. The teacher led the kids in frequent hand washing throughout the day at classroom sinks, while singing a prolonged “hand washing song” to ensure they did more than a cursory pass under the faucet with water only.

If a family left Beijing and came back, the child would have to stay at home for an extended period before returning to class to make sure they hadn’t caught SARS elsewhere.

With those precautions in place, I observed something of a public health miracle: Not only did no child get SARS, but it seemed no student was sick with anything at all for months on end. No stomach bugs. No common colds. Attendance was more or less perfect.

The World Health Organization declared the SARS outbreak contained in July 2003. But, oh, that those habits persisted. The best first-line defenses against SARS or the new coronavirus or most any virus at all are the ones that Grandma and common sense taught us, after all.