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What a Tampa Bay public health expert is telling his family and friends

Think of every coronavirus case like you would a cockroach, Jay Wolfson says. “For every one you see, there are 9-20 in the wall.”
"This is not a drill. We have been invaded," says Jay Wolfson, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health, Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of South Florida.
"This is not a drill. We have been invaded," says Jay Wolfson, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health, Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of South Florida. [ Times (2015) ]
Published Mar. 17, 2020|Updated Mar. 17, 2020

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Jay Wolfson is the Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health, Medicine and Pharmacy, Associate Vice President, Health Law, Policy and Safety, Senior Associate Dean, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida and is faculty at Stetson University College of Law. He is frequently quoted by local and national media. (See more on his background below.) As the coronavirus spreads, here is what he’s telling the people closest to him:

Dear family and friends,

I am writing this to my family and friends to underscore the importance of taking significant precautions in your daily lives to reduce the risk of being afflicted by — or afflicting others with — the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is not a drill. We have been invaded.

Most of you have heard me reference “Wolfson’s Rule of Cockroaches”: For every one you see, there are 9-20 in the wall.

That is a fair, albeit likely mild statement about the coronavirus. And because we began testing and surveillance late, there has been ample time for the virus to infiltrate many communities. The cases we know of are only those that have been tested. And we have not done much of that at all.

I’ll be direct, and expect that, despite all else you may think about me, you will trust my judgment about this.

More than anything else, containing this threat and protecting yourself and the people you care about is dependent on personal responsibility, civil behavior, basic public health hygiene practices and common sense. Don’t be a fool. Don’t be a moron. Don’t panic.

It is likely that we will be experiencing precipitous increases in the reported cases of COVID-19 over the next few months. It can afflict some people without displaying symptoms — making them silent, but potentially deadly carriers.

COVID-19 disproportionately afflicts the elderly, immuno-compromised persons, persons with histories of respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, diabetics and hypertensives. While younger, healthier people may experience relatively mild or even no symptoms if afflicted, they will still be carriers, capable of infecting others — their families and friends.

You’ve heard this many times:


  • You have a new, persistent, dry cough; a fever; new and distinctive respiratory difficulty; OR
  • You have been exposed to somebody who reports these symptoms; OR
  • You have been exposed to somebody who has been told by their medical professional to self-isolate or to quarantine ...
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... then you should consider yourself presumptively at risk. And even if you are not displaying symptoms, it is prudent to self-isolate — away from loved ones and friends who have not been similarly, potentially exposed. If you display these symptoms, notify your physician or local health department and follow instructions, which will likely include self-isolation and testing when sufficient test kits and sites become available. That could be many days or weeks, depending on production, distribution, training and test site capacity.

Should you be diagnosed and placed in home isolation, do not violate the isolation because it could be a crime in most jurisdictions.

Wash your hands with real soap and hot water regularly — for at least 20 seconds. This actually removes dangerous materials from cellular levels in your skin.

Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when you cannot wash your hands, but try not to rely on them as the exclusive source of sanitizing your skin.

Don’t shake hands and don’t hug others.

Don’t touch your face or others’ faces.

Don’t sneeze or cough into your hand or into the open air.

Dispose of tissues upon which you have sneezed, coughed or wiped areas.

Try to maintain a 6-foot personal space with others.

Avoid all closed areas and crowded areas.

Avoid all non-essential public transit travel (air, bus, train).

Wipe things you are using with sanitizing compounds (table-tops, computer pads, phones, doorknobs, etc.).

Remind others to follow basic, personal hygiene and responsibility practices.

This virus can survive for many hours on non-porous surfaces.

It can remain viable within a person long after the 14-day period, and after symptoms have gone away.

Be safe and be well. Indeed, be safe in order to be well.

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More about the author

Jay Wolfson researches and writes about health care law, ethics, policy, technology, safety and finance, provides research-based analyses to state and federal branches of governments, and is a health policy consultant to national and international news organizations. He won the largest Medicare fraud and abuse settlement involving a single clinician in the history of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. He holds a doctorate in public health from the University of Texas, a law degree from Stetson University College of Law, a master’s degree in public health from Indiana University, a master’s degree in history from New York University, and an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Illinois. He was appointed Special Guardian Ad Litem for Theresa Marie Schiavo. He has been a faculty scholar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senior Fulbright Scholar, University of Tokyo and W. K. Kellogg Fellow. He has three sons, and a very cool partner.

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