Responding to COVID-19 and Coronavirus

Coronavirus courtesy of the CDC

One of Gabriel García Márquez’s novels is entitled Love in the Time of Cholera. We could easily call the current state of affairs in the world Life in the Time of Coronavirus.

The COVID-19 coronavirus disease, which is now a pandemic, has shaken the world medically, financially and emotionally. Unless you have been completely cut off from society for the past several months and are only now coming online, you know the impact that this disease has had.

I would like to do my small part to share some helpful information about the disease.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Again, according to the WHO,

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

The impact hits close to home 

While everyone in my family is healthy—touch wood—the disease has had an impact on my work. Several presentations and trainings that I had been planning have been postponed. And I have been put on notice that two EMBA courses that I am still scheduled to teach at universities in Geneva and Barcelona might also be postponed or cancelled.

So my business has been disrupted as have the businesses of millions. One of my friends with whom I collaborate at the IESE Business School and elsewhere is Conor Neill. He offers some advice on how small business leaders can respond.

Still, it is the health impact that is of most concern. As of today (11 March 2020), more than 115,000 people around the world have been infected and more than 4,200 have died.

I live just outside of Geneva and my work as a public speaker (normally) takes me all over Europe. Just three weeks ago, I was in Italy for a few days. I spent the first evening in Milan, traveled to Bologna on the second day to give a workshop there, and returned home on the third day flying via Rome. As I write this post, Italy is under total lockdown. I feel fortunate not to have been caught up in what is undoubtedly a difficult situation for everyone there.

I wish everyone in Italy—and around the world—good luck.

Where to get information

There is a lot of information circulating on the Internet. Unfortunately, a lot of it is inaccurate or deliberately misleading. And the growing number of conspiracy theories about COVID-19 is disheartening.

With an outbreak like this, it is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources. While we each have to make up our own minds as to what to read, here are three sources that I trust:

    • The World Health Organization – I worked at the WHO for over five years and I know that my friends and former colleagues are working around the clock on COVID-19. One of the people spearheading the WHO’s efforts is Bruce Aylward with whom I worked on his TED Talk about polio. Bruce is top notch and I am happy to see him playing a major role.
    • Johns Hopkins, Bloomberg School of Public Health – Johns Hopkins is one of the leading medical and public health schools in the world. You can subscribe to a free, daily health security e-newsletter here. The newsletter is short and consists of concise, fact-based bullet points.
    • Health Canada – The COVID-19 / Coronavirus page on the Health Canada website is  clear, clean and easy to navigate. This website is useful even if you are not Canadian. It is in English and French. 

Protecting ourselves and others

One can quickly feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on, but there are many things that we can do:

    • Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak by visiting reliable sources such as those above and your local health authority.
    • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alternatively, use an alcohol-based hand rub that kills viruses.
    • Keep at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth may contain the virus.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. This is one that I have to work on. It is incredible how often we touch our faces during the day.
    • Practice good respiratory hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue if you cough or sneeze. Dispose of used tissues immediately.
    • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.
    • Get enough sleep, eat healthy, take vitamin supplements if necessary and exercise to boost your immune system. These are things we should be doing as a matter of course regardless of COVID-19.
    • Do not judge people based on their ethnicity. This disease doesn’t care about your culture and we are all in this together. There is enough prejudice, discrimination and racism in the world already. We don’t need more.

9 reasons to be reassured

It can be easy to despair when facing something frightening like COVID-19 and stories of illness and death and spread abound in the news. But The Guardian newspaper put out a welcome article offering nine reasons to be reassured. In short form, the reasons are:

1.  We know what the disease is.

2.  We can test for it.

3.  It can be contained, albeit at a significant cost. (NB: This is based on the initial results of China’s extreme quarantine and containment measures. In the meantime, the disease is spreading rapidly elsewhere and more effort has to be focused on mitigation and treatment.)

4.  It is not that easy to catch COVID-19 if you take proper precautions.

5.  Thankfully, in most cases, symptoms are mild.

6.  People are recovering from it.

7.  Hundreds of scientific articles have been written about it, which means that critical knowledge is being shared.

8.  Prototypes for vaccines exist.

9.  Dozens of clinical trials are underway for antiviral treatments.

And what about public speaking?

While it is certainly far from being the most important thing related to COVID-19, what can you do to improve your public speaking skills if you cannot speak in public or attend trainings? Here are five ideas:

1.  Read this blog. Well done!

2.  Watch speeches on YouTube or TED and analyze them. What do you like? What would you improve? I have analyzed dozens of speeches here.

3.  Read books on public speaking. Here are five that I recommend.

4.  Start working on your next speech or presentation.

5.  Play Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™.

We will get through this disease, but it might take a while. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy and my best wishes to you and your family and friends.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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2 Responses to Responding to COVID-19 and Coronavirus

  1. A good post John, and given the amount of panic and hysteria one can find online, this is already a great accolade!

    I disagee with point #3 in the reasons to be reassured. It CANNOT be contained, and it will spread worldwide. We need to come to terms with this virus, and learn how to live with it. It’s more of a psychological issue than a practical one, because as far as I can see, most responses have been triggered by panic, and not by reason.

    Restricting citizens’ liberties is a NO GO. It might “work“ In authoritarian China, but in a country like Italy, where we pride ourselves of “liberty“, it is really grotesque to see this happen.

    On the information available online, I wanted to share a great lecture from a doctor I personally know and trust, a world-renowned virologist from Johns Hopkins, 30 minutes well invested to learn more about viral spreading of diseases.

    Dr. Amesh Adalja’s view is clear: no point in trying to contain this any longer, let’s move to mitigation and let’s return to a normal life as rapidly as possible, to avoid worse damages inflicted to the economy and society by politicians who only want to look good in the eyes of the electorate.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Luca. Glad you liked the post. I firmly believe that, for the average person, getting information from reliable resources is the foundation for being prepared and responding properly.

      Your comment on containment is noted. That’s why “at significant cost” is there. There are signs that it has slowed the spread in China, at least for now. It is too early to say what the long-term effect will be. And yes, authoritarian regimes can implement this kind of measure far more easily than in open democracies. Now the world waits to see what the effect will be in Italy.

      But it is clear that the disease will spread around the world. It already has. And as more testing is done, numbers will jump which will fuel panic for many people. So treatment and mitigation will be key. No question. (I am less hopeful about certain politicians but we will see.)

      Thanks for the video link. I am listening to it now. My oldest daughter is finishing her Masters at Johns Hopkins and will return home soon. I will ask her if she knows Dr. Adalja.

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