As of this writing, the novel coronavirus or “covid 19” has caused most of the countries in Europe and elsewhere around the world to enact strict public health measures to mitigate its spread. After China and other Asian countries, Italy has been shut down for days now and the number of new Italian cases, and unfortunately deaths, has grown by leaps and bounds as more people are diagnosed and/or fall ill. France is shuttering all daycares, schools, and universities as of Monday, March 16, and has strictly prohibited large gatherings of over 100 people. The standard contingency plans France has had for years have been adapted to the evolving situation and are being implemented to assist parents with child care and businesses who need to close part-time, and employees, etc. will be compensated as appropriate under the national unemployment insurance system and other schemes so as to limit financial hardship as far as possible.
The Louvre and other tourist sites are closed. Norway, Sweden, Germany, and others have instigated similar stringent closing measures. Government officials are self-isolating as they come into contact with infected or possibly-infected people. Here in the US, a number of states are under emergency orders; schools and universities are closing as precautionary measures, and New York City declared a state of emergency and, among other measures, promptly shut down the Theater District for a month as of Thursday, March 12. The United States is, in fact, awaiting a declaration of national emergency today as I write this.
These closings are necessary because mandatory distancing provisions – in other words, prohibiting occasions for people to come into contact with one another in large numbers – are one way to help prevent or slow the spread of the virus. Large numbers of people in confined spaces make for a perfect storm for contagion. As covid 19 has so far been said to be generally mild in healthy individuals and does not seem to affect young children much (for the moment) the symptoms may be so slight as to be unrecognizable or even absent and go unnoticed, but such people who come into contact with the virus can and do unknowingly contaminate others. If they do present with symptoms afterward, that’s too late to keep others from having already been affected. (This also works the same way for most viruses, in fact.)
However, doctors working directly with patients in France are alarmed by prospects that this virus is far more dangerous than commonly expressed, as it does not or no longer affects only the elderly and the medically-fragile. The head physician of the infectious diseases ward at the highly-respected Tenon Hospital in Paris has reported cases of otherwise healthy younger patients in the 30-40 year age group as being critically ill with covid 19. As he put it, “Le coronavirus ne joue pas dans la même cour que la grippe”. ([“Coronavirus is not playing in the same ballpark as the flu.”] – full article from L’Express here, in French.)
In Italy, 12,000+ have fallen ill with covid 19, and as of March 12, more than 1,000 have died from it since the first reported cases only about a month ago, mainly elderly people (Italy has probably the oldest population in the EU) and those with chronic medical conditions. One Italian doctor working in the hospitals there wrote:
“Some of our colleagues who are infected also have infected relatives and some of their relatives are already struggling between life and death. So be patient, you can’t go to the theatre, museums or the gym. Try to have pity on the myriad of old people you could exterminate.” (Link to article here.)
I know those are stark words, but they are by a doctor who is on the front lines with this right now, and I think it’s very well said. I’ll add to the list: the chronically ill, the immuno-deficient, the uninsured and underinsured, and the other most fragile persons among us, as well as all healthcare workers and other people who simply cannot just stay home from work or work from home. This possibly means you, your parents or siblings or children, your grandparents or your friends and colleagues. I’ll say it louder for those in the back: you or anyone you know can be in this case.
Even if it only removes a portion of the risk, canceling or postponing parades, concerts, and other public events, temporarily closing theaters and gyms and schools and other non-essential public spaces, limiting gatherings and recommending avoiding all unnecessary travel can mean the above people will have somewhat less chance of catching the virus, and even a small reduction in that chance can mean a notable slowdown in the spread of contagion.
(Photo from CDC.com)
I am aware that I am lucky to work from home and acutely aware that not everyone can do so. If such is your case, you are fully entitled to protect yourself by asking people to keep a distance, using disinfectant gels and sprays, taking breaks to wash your hands, and generally taking every possible precaution – and no one should take offense. If you do fall ill, please stay home and call your physician about any needed medical attention and get any other assistance that may be available to you. In this way, you will not only be able to care for yourself, but you will also be protecting others.
This does not mean we should panic, certainly not by any means. I’m not trying to scare you. On the other hand, I do want people to pay attention. The covid 19 virus needs to be taken extremely seriously until it can be brought under control. We have to understand and accept that for the moment there is NO specific treatment and NO prevention other than appropriate and consistent hygiene (wash. your. hands.) and that this spreads mainly through droplet propagation (cover. your. cough/sneeze.) and, also importantly, through surface contamination (wash. your. hands), and that, in closed spaces, it possibly remains in the air for a certain number of hours as well (current study to be confirmed).
Proper cleaning with normal household cleaning products suffices to eliminate the virus. No need to stock up on Lysol or bleach. And again, wash your hands regularly. Plain soap and water work just fine. Minimum 20 seconds is a must; read up on how to get them clean including under and around nails, rings, knuckles. Scrub up “like you just finished cutting up Carolina Reaper peppers and you wear contacts that you want to take out,” as one internet meme says. Remember over the day to wipe off door handles, phones, keyboards, tables, countertops, your car steering wheel, and other frequently-handled surfaces regularly with at least a clean, slightly soapy, damp cloth or paper towel or other appropriate products (for phones and computers for example). Be conscious of where you are putting your hands when you are out and about, and use tissues for example if needed to prevent touching public surfaces; pencil erasers work very well to press pinpads. And Wash. Your. Hands. That can’t be repeated enough. Hand sanitizer is only a temporary solution at best and was developed mainly for bacteria (a virus is not a bacterium) and so your hands still need to be washed immediately you get home or wherever it is you are going to, if not sooner whenever possible. Don’t forget hand lotion after – just a reminder.
Common sense, self-discipline, and looking out for yourself and for each other are the best preventives right now, but there will probably be more closures and cancellations and possibly other more severe measures. Yes, that all sucks, but this is a matter of everyone’s health, including yours and your loved ones’. If everyone follows these recommendations, the healthcare system will hold up and the spread can be contained at least to some extent, and also other people who need care other than for the virus can get help too. This will save lives and also help prevent the virus from spreading quickly. Don’t buy up disinfectants or other daily necessities and hoard. Other people need them, too.
Countries have put their top researches on this; some treatments are almost ready to start lab trials for efficacy but a vaccine will not be tested, certified safe and efficient, approved by the powers that be, and put on the market for at least 12 to 18 months. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise at this point. Don’t expect this to “go away in the summer” because it’s active in the middle of summer in Australia right now. It might go away, but it might not, or it might come back stronger and more deadly next fall. We don’t have all the absolute facts yet. Please remember this is a novel coronavirus and that “novel” means there was no other one like it before, so there is nothing similar with which to create a new vaccine or treatment relatively quickly as is the case with the flu where we have several strains that can be adapted to manufacture treatments and vaccines each flu season.
Also, while I am at it: Covid 19 really does not need to be an ongoing, 24-hour political hatefest at the moment, either. I’m sorry, but I for one have literally no patience for hatemongering or conspiracy theories right now because it changes nothing to the actual situation at hand. I have people I need to look after and I have deadlines I have to meet. That said there are things that do need to be loudly and persistently addressed to a number of politicians who owe explanations to the public about how this has been handled, on several levels, and why the responses from D.C. have been such a clusterf… .
Later on, when this has been brought under control, countries and their electorates can take stock of how the responses played out, and all necessary appropriate policy and procedural changes can and must be made permanent or discussed and developed and put into effect at that time to be able to contend with any future pandemics. And let’s try to work together with kindness to keep each other as safe as possible. Complaining, and worse, trolling the internet, won’t solve the problem, anyway.
We are in this for the long haul as things stand now, and we are all in this together.
These closures and other measures should simply be thought of as preventive. Each person doing their part to adapt to and follow these recommendations will be everyone’s way of helping. Keep informed with official health sources. Check your emails; healthcare providers, insurers and other services send out useful updates and information regularly. Just being aware now and acting responsibly is the best thing to do, in conjunction with the common-sense and reasonable precautions that everyone has seen everywhere lately and which actually should be our daily habits.
Be safe, be responsible, and don’t be afraid. Be aware. Of course we can and will get past this, but it depends on us all.