We will get through this.
It’s unsettling. You organize your life for a predictable world of good schools, reliable daycare, spring break or summertime travel plans, dinners with friends, regular paychecks, late afternoons at the gym, planting the tomatoes and basil in mid-April or (if you feel like gambling) in late March. Then COVID-19 upends things. All of a sudden you are sheltering in place. Schools are closed, spring break came and went with no travel and no staycation, the gyms are closed, you wave at your friends from the street as they wave back from inside their houses (and this is a highlight of your day), you telework. With all the time you are spending at home, you realize you are allergic to your cat, and you seem to be allergic to the mask someone made and donated to the health center for you to wear. Despite the Allegra you are taking daily. You wear a mask and gloves when you go Krogering, you pick off-peak times, and you try to get in and out as quickly as possible, but then realize Kroger has moved the blasted cat food and you cannot find it. Home Depot may have basil plants waiting for you, but you cannot say truthfully that going to Home Depot for basil is a necessity, and so for the first time in 20 years, you have no aromatic basil filling the pots outside your kitchen door. You’re frustrated, but realize you are very, very lucky because your work and your paycheck continue.
We will get through this.
The world has good scientists, and they are collaborating with each other across national boundaries. Viral research labs are switching from working on other viruses to concentrate on the COVID-19 virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, SARS-CoV-2). Controlled trials of potential treatments are ongoing and are being published. Work on developing a vaccine moves forward. One bit of good news is that the COVID-19 virus does not seem to be mutating very quickly, which means that one vaccine (or vaccine series) may be good for years of coverage, maybe even giving lifetime immunity as occurs with the measles vaccine. This is different from influenza, where a new vaccine is required each year because the influenza virus mutates so rapidly.
We can learn from other countries. Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea all seem to be containing COVID-19 better than we are. These are countries that lived through SARS (the illness caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 1), and because of SARS had public health infrastructure and plans in place to deal with the next pandemic. Trained, qualified epidemiologists have led efforts to test widely, and contacts of COVID positive patients are tracked aggressively, then quarantined appropriately. Germany seems to be doing well. Again, they have tested widely. Citizens obey the rules of social distancing and quarantining. Angela Merkel gives calm rational updates, and follows the rules herself, going into 14 days of quarantine when she realized she had been in contact with a COVID-19 positive physician.
Trust Americans. This is a nation of people who “can do.” The public health infrastructure is not as strong as it might be, but individuals are stepping up, voluntarily, to fill gaps. An artist with a 3D printer is making face shields and donating them to local hospitals. People who work with fabric are switching to making masks for hospital and personal use. Professional fundraisers are raising money to buy and donate PPE (personal protective equipment). Most women and men and some children with sewing machines are making cloth facemasks from designs that flood the internet. Mayors and governors are seeing local needs and enacting local regulations to enforce social distancing in an effort to flatten the curve.
We all can do our parts actively. Anyone who reads the news or sees the news knows what should be done.
Wash your hands. Frequently. With soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. I’m one who sings Happy Birthday twice, usually with the names of my two daughters, but sometimes with the names of friends or my husband and myself.
Maintain social distancing, which means staying at least 6 feet from people who are not in your household. The advice on gatherings in America currently is to avoid groups of greater than 10. In Germany, the rule is to avoid groups of greater than 2.
If you can work by telecommuting, telecommute.
If you feel sick, do NOT go to work. Do not go anywhere. Call your doctor for advice.
Try to get some sunlight daily. Movement helps, and getting out of the house helps, even if it is just in your back yard or up and down your driveway.
Stay in touch with the people you love. Stay in touch with neighbors who might need help. Write letters, write emails or texts. Telephone. Schedule Skype or Zoom dates. Don’t forget people who might be lonely.
If you can help people whose work and paychecks did not continue, please do so. There is a huge economic cost to all our quarantining and social distancing, and people who have lost their businesses or their paychecks need help. If you can donate food or money or your time, do.
Make time to do the things that center you. That might be cooking, weeding, knitting, puzzling, woodworking, going on the elliptical, doing yoga, rereading your favorite spy novel or poetry. It might be lying on your back outside watching the clouds.
Wash your hands again.
Don’t touch your face. The virus can move from your hands to your face, and thence from your face to your respiratory tract via your nose or mouth.
Wear a mask in public. This protects other people from your coughs and sneezes and exhalations, and it protects you from theirs.
Only go out for necessities. Mississippi is predicted to reach its peak number of COVID-19 cases in late April. One of the requirements for phase one of relaxing the social distancing rules is for the disease to have peaked or plateaued in an area so that the daily number of new cases is falling or stable. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 300 new cases in Mississippi on April 18th. This is the largest daily number of new cases yet, so we certainly have not peaked or plateaued. This means we cannot relax our shelter-in-place rules yet. It has been a long time already, I know, and it is expensive and inconvenient to stay home, but we need to persevere. It is impossible to tell who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t have COVID-19 among a group of people who look well. So, please don’t flaunt the rules of social distancing, for you may have the virus asymptomatically and spread it to neighbors, coworkers, or people you love, or you may get the virus and become ill.
For now, please stay home.
We will get through this.
Dr. Jean Gispen – Staff Physician, Employee Health Center