Last month, I participated in a simulation of a global pandemic, produced by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Participants in the online event were alerted to a fictional outbreak of a coronavirus, said to be as contagious as influenza.

The world has seen a growing number of epidemics, about 200 per year, according to the Johns Hopkins Center.

Viewers of the simulation were asked to vote and add their comments to solve the health, economic and social dilemmas created as the pandemic unfolded.

By the end of the event: Disinformation was increasing on social media sites, commerce was at a standstill, counties were facing economic crises, pharmaceutical companies did not have the financial support to expand antiviral manufacturing and the disease had grown to a worldwide epidemic.

There were no easy answers to the questions, but I had gained a better understanding of the decisions that were needed to prepare for and respond to these threats.

The exercise illustrated the need for government and industry to continue to invest in research to develop new vaccines, improve infection control and to develop more effective communication techniques on social media.

A video of the exercise is available online and recommendations from the exercise will be posted in the next few weeks at centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/media.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 1,483 epidemics worldwide in the last seven years.

Survey research indicates most people believe having a written plan for what to do in case of a disaster or emergency would make them feel safer. Yet, according to the research, most people don’t have a plan and have not read local, state or national emergency planning information. Information for people with disabilities to plan for emergencies is available from the Department of Homeland Security at ready.gov/disability.

According to the department, everyone should have a support network of family, friends or caregivers who have access to your home and know where you keep your emergency supplies and medications.

Wearing a medical alert bracelet may also help others know what to do and who to call if you are unable to provide that information. It is crucial to plan for the resources you use regularly, and what you would do if those resources are limited or not available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plan ahead for power outages and have backup batteries or other power sources to operate medical devices or to charge a power wheelchair or cellphone. ave a readily available list of contact people, doctors, emergency services, accessible transportation and shelters, should the need arise.

Some preventive strategies offered by the CDC for the upcoming flu season include:

u Getting a flu shot. The flu typically peaks between December and February, and it is a good idea to get the flu shot in the fall to get ahead of the virus.

u Practicing proper hand-washing techniques. Lather your hands with soap and scrub the front and back of hands and under nails for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well and dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Always wash hands after touching items that have come into contact with a sick person, after sneezing and coughing, after using the toilet and before eating or touching the eyes or mouth.

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.

u Staying home if you are sick. If you need to go out, wear a HEPA mask.

According to the CDC, someone with the virus may be able to infect another person from up to 6 feet away through coughing, sneezing or even just talking.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the CDC have compiled educational materials for social media in several languages to encourage vaccination and emphasize the seriousness of the flu using the hashtags #FightFlu!

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

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City Desk editor

Cynthia is a City Desk editor for The Santa Fe New Mexican and was formerly The New Mexican's copy desk chief. She covers a number of topics including child welfare issues.

(1) comment

Michal Mudd

I think just having a generally healthy populace that is less susceptible to disease by being: 1) well fed with healthy foods, 2) adequately housed , 3) have access to routine medical care and preventive medicine, 4)well educated and informed, and better motivated, would all go a long ways to mitigating pandemic losses. If we don’t invest in our people, if being healthy and fit isn’t considered, I don’t know, patriotic or something you owe your family, our population’s condition makes us sitting ducks.

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