Education is critical

That's one of the biggest messages Sherry Adams, executive officer of Southwest District Health Unit, has about the coronavirus that causes the illness COVID-19.

The disease has spread to 77 countries worldwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. John Hopkins University has counted 92,818 confirmed cases and 3,159 deaths worldwide. The university lists 118 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 7 deaths. The CDC has reported 60 cases in the U.S.

Prepare, don't panic

Adams is often asked about masks — Should I wear one? Which kind?

The North Dakota Department of Health posted to its Facebook the following: "Purchasing masks to protect yourself from COVID-19 is not recommended for most people. Save the masks for healthcare workers and others who need them most."

The mask that provides the most protection is the N95 mask, but Adams reiterates that they should be reserved for first responders and medical people, both of which will be in more direct contact with infected people, especially given that there is a shortage of the masks.

Surgical masks should be worn only by people who are ill or are exhibiting symptoms such as coughing or sneezing. The U.S. Surgeon General stated on Twitter, "Surgical masks don't provide YOU respiratory protection against diseases like Coronavirus. They protect others from YOUR cough."

Adams says sometimes masks give a person a false sense of security and likens it to wearing gloves.

"I can touch everything ... and I'm fine because I have gloves on, but now I've touched a bunch of stuff and now I've touched my face," Adams said. "We don't want people to be under the illusion that if you wear a mask, you're not going to get sick."

Instead, she advises wash your hands frequently and not touching your face.

A repeat of 1918? Not necessarily.

There has been much speculation throughout the nation that COVID-19 may turn out to be a repeat of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic.

Unlike the Spanish flu, COVID-19 has not yet been declared a pandemic, though there is a possibility it might.

While the fatality rate of the Spanish flue is not officially know, it is often estimated to be between 2 and 3%. Other sources put it around 10-20%.

Currently, the estimated fatality rate for COVID-19 is 2-3%, but those are preliminary numbers and could change.

"That's really hard to for sure say because we don't know how many more cases people might have had that actually didn't go in and get confirmed. For example, let's say a country is reporting 4,000 cases; those are confirmed cases. How many other people might have actually had the virus but they weren't sick enough to go in? You can take that actual 4,000 confirmed and find out the fatality rate based on that scenario, but what if there was actually 10,000 people sick? That fatality ratio would actually go down."

The estimated fatality rate will become more reliable as more people are tested, Adams said.