• Understanding your own coronavirus risk means understanding what's happening in your area, learning where the virus is spreading, and how and when it's safe to socialize.
  • "We can be advised by government, we can be advised by science, but in the end, this comes down to personal motivation and personal choice," the WHO's Mike Ryan said.
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The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged people to think for themselves, and learn how to manage their own personal coronavirus risk, without relying on the government to tell them when it's safe to go out.

"We have to learn to live with this virus," the WHO's executive director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, said during a regular press conference streamed from Geneva.

"Every person needs to look at your own risk. You need to be aware of what is the local transmission. You need to know what the transmission in [your] area is. You need to be able to take control of your own destiny also, and not just rely on information from governments."

Ryan's advice comes as the global burden of new coronavirus infections weighs heavily on people in the United States, where the virus continues spreading rapidly in many spots.

More than a quarter of the world's new coronavirus infections reported to the WHO on Tuesday were in the US, but the virus is not falling evenly across the country, as a new county-level map released from Harvard's Global Health Institute Wednesday demonstrates.

Individual behaviors matter, especially in places where the virus is spreading fast

While the virus is receding in some formerly hard-hit areas, like in New York City, it's spiraling out of control across Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California, the four states which Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday account for "more than 50% of the new infections" in the US.

"We're now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day, I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned," Fauci said."I'm very concerned, because it could get very bad."

Many states are now closing down formerly reopened bars, restaurants, and gyms , as hospitals continue to fill up with coronavirus patients.

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Ryan said governments can certainly play a role in providing good information about where the virus is spreading, and how safe it is to be out and about but, ultimately, much of the responsibility for containing community spread of the virus rests with people. That means being proactive about understanding how the virus is spreading in their specific area, and deciding which activities are safest and when.

Ryan mentioned "nightclubs" and other large social gatherings, where there may be "shouting, singing" as well as dorms and nursing homes, as easy places for the virus to get passed around from person to person, as people talk, exchanging air and spit indoors. But even going out to a club doesn't carry quite the same risks in Seoul, where there is widespread testing and contact tracing, as it does in Arizona right now.

"A specific context can lead to higher levels of transmission, but that is when the virus is present," Ryan said. "Understanding how your behavior, your individual behavior either increases the risk or decreases the risk of this virus transmitting is absolutely vital."

Dr. Fauci had a similar message for Americans yesterday when he said it's prudent to avoid indoor bars at all costs right now.

"We do this every day of our lives as human beings, we manage risk," Ryan said. "We decide when we cross the road. We decide when we fly. We decide when we have an operation or not have an operation. We make decisions."

You can still socialize, just be smart about it

It doesn't mean that we have to lock ourselves away forever. Small changes like dining outside instead of in a crowded indoor restaurant, wearing a mask when you need to be in a public space , and avoiding long periods of time indoors at mass gatherings of all kinds can really make a difference when it comes to stamping out this virus.

Some cities and states around the US are making it easier than others for people to manage their risk. Harris County, Texas, for example, has instituted a red, orange, yellow, and green "threat level system " for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus (the current threat level is "severe" and advises people to "stay home.")

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But whether we go out, and how we do it, is ultimately a personal choice.

"We decide on our proximity to other individuals, we decide on the intensity of our social engagement, we decide how long we spend in that environment," Ryan said. "We can be advised by government, we can be advised by science, but in the end, this comes down to personal motivation and personal choice."

He added: "If it doesn't feel safe, it isn't safe for you. And therefore, inform yourself, understand the risks, manage those risks."

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