About seven weeks ago, I was considering skipping my friend’s birthday party.
It won’t be more than 10-12 people, I thought, shouldn’t be too bad.
This was before everything was “shut down” and every other word in most conversations was “virus.” I’ve been following international news about coronavirus almost obsessively, since the beginning of the year. My anxiety levels were through the roof.
The minute we pulled up to the restaurant, I wanted to turn around and go back home. We eventually walk inside, and the place is packed. Throughout the entire hour and a half that we stayed, I felt almost as if I was going to drop dead right there on the floor, at any given minute.
I’ve always been a germaphobe, always found large crowds to trigger feelings of both anxiety and claustrophobia. I mean… add a possibility of an infectious disease to the equation, and things can get bad, quickly.
So, we’re sitting at the table waiting for the birthday girl to arrive. All I see are people dancing, bumping into each other, touching. You really don’t realize how much you touch the people you’re close to until you start paying very close attention to it. Playfully hitting someone’s arm when you laugh at something they say, getting within millimeters of their face when you’re talking and they can’t hear you because of the loud music, etc.
I’m sitting at our table, unable to concentrate on anything. Well, anything other than telling Mark to “stop touching your face!” every two minutes. Then, I hear someone behind me yell to their friend “yo, how about that corona bullshit!?” after which they start laughing hysterically. I kept thinking to myself: “why aren’t these people freaking out right now?”
It wasn’t until we got in the car, that I felt like I could finally breathe again.
Over the last couple of months, even Mark told me a few times that I’m being a bit of an alarmist. Some of my family kept saying that I’m overreacting and blowing things out of proportion.
“Talk to me in about three to four weeks.”- was my standard response.
Well, we’ve known for a very long time now that it wasn’t a matter of “if” the next global health crisis occurs, but “when.”
And here we are today.
NEVER A “GOTCHA!” MOMENT
“I thought it was something you picked up from your father. He always said something like this would happen. You told me, and I didn’t believe you.”
Not sure if it was my mom’s attempt at making me feel… better, but of course, it didn’t. My dad is a fellow history buff, and with me having studied biology, we always shared an interest in learning about things like disease/pandemics that changed history.
We’re not all that special, of course. Just like millions of other people, we simply paid attention.
It’s one thing to study those horrible times in history. Quite another to actually live through one.
So, no. It absolutely was not a “gotcha!” moment. Sure, I’m glad that we slowly stocked up some supplies, food and other essentials over the last few months. Living in a sort of a semirural area, we’re used to losing power or getting snowed in, so this is something we’ve always done, anyway. Not quite the “preppers” but being ready for some of these small emergencies always put me at ease.
Still, I didn’t want anyone (be it my dad or Bill Gates) to be “right” about any of this. Even as I was filling those voids in my pantry, I don’t think I truly believed that what’s happening right now, would actually happen. Having some of my friends and family tell me they wish they listened to my “dire warnings” (as one of them has so lovingly put) carries no vindication. What I am happy about, is that none of them need any more convincing that COVID is a real threat to us all. Especially since there are still people out there, who do not think that coronavirus is a “big deal.”
Hell, a few weeks ago we had POTUS saying that this will “disappear very quickly,” even shaking hands with people on live TV. While that tone might have changed a little, it feels like way too little, way too late.
Frankly, I’m not sure what makes me furious more:
a.) the fact that despite knowing what’s happening in places like China or Italy and countless warnings, months to prepare, our federal government was so late to act and we STILL lack a nationwide strategy and have no uniform, country-wide policy in place,
b.) the fact that there isn’t more outrage about the above.
As much anger and frustration as I, along with every single person I speak to, might feel, at this point, we do have to focus on other things.
There’s no more “you,” no more “me,” or “them.” There’s only “us.”
This is coming to you, wherever you are. If you think that this can’t become your reality and affect you in any way, please think again.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE DEALING WITH HERE?
There is so much fear, uncertainty among us at the moment- and for a good reason. We’ve never been through anything like this. Generally, people seem to have different attitudes at the moment:
a.) They put a lot of trust in public health departments and local government officials. They have no problem doing what is being asked of us, as they fully realize how important it is to follow, as we call them for now, “guidelines.”
b.) Other people might not understand everything that’s going on. While they’re not too crazy about the government telling them what to do and when to do it, they try their best to adjust to that change and, for the most part, they’re following the rules (at least for now).
c.) Then, there are some who aren’t concerned at all because “If I get corona, I get corona” and “at the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.”
d.) And, of course, last but not least, we cannot forget about those members of our communities, who simply don’t care. Why? Because they believe it to be a conspiracy. Also known as “it’s-just-a-flu” bros.
Luckily, the majority of people fall in either of those first two scenarios.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS HAPPENING
The best way to form an opinion is to try to actually understand what is happening. To put trust in the only thing that can be trusted right now: science. It’s the only way to understand why it’s necessary for all of us to take those important measures.
Knowledge is power. It gives you a better understanding of what’s happening. Making drastic changes in your daily routines and life in general, is easier, once you know how much of an impact you, alone, can make.
First, the most important thing to remember is that we’re putting up a fight against a novel coronavirus. This means that it’s a coronavirus strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
You might have even heard some people say that you shouldn’t worry about the coronavirus, because “a simple cold is a coronavirus!”
Well, that last part is true. A simple cold is, at times, caused by certain coronaviruses.
As is SARS (caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or “SARS-CoV”) and MERS (caused by the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or “MERS-CoV”). Both are diseases you’ve probably heard of and know to be more serious than “just a cold.” Coronaviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause illness in animals and humans. In humans, they can cause respiratory tract infection that can be mild, like some cases of the common cold, or potentially lethal, like COVID-19 (caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or “SARS-CoV-2”). So, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus and COVID-19 is the disease it causes. The name is pretty much self-explanatory with “CO” standing for “corona,” “VI” for “virus,” and “D” for “disease” and “19” to represent 2019, the year in which it was discovered.
Because it is a novel coronavirus, there’s limited information on its epidemiology (distribution patterns, transmission/spread dynamics). While doctors and scientists have learned a lot about it over the last couple of months, a lot still remains unknown. It seems almost as if we learn something new about it, almost daily.
SLOWING THE SPREAD
In recent weeks, you’ve probably heard or read the phrase “flatten the curve” over and over again. The reason why we hear this phrase so often is because it is that important. In epidemiology, “flattening the curve” is the idea of slowing the rapid spread of the disease. The epi curve is simply a visual display of the projected onset and progression of an outbreak.
Depending on the infection rate, it will take different shapes. A steep curve represents an exponential spread of the virus. If no action is taken to prevent or contain it, the number of infections skyrockets and reaches its peak within weeks. A huge number of people get ill very quickly, hospitals become overwhelmed. With the sudden increase in patient volume, detecting new cases and establishing virus transmission chains becomes impossible. The Healthcare system struggles with increasing surge capacity. With PPE shortages healthcare workers put themselves at risk of getting infected. More and more people get infected, more and more lives are lost.
We’re already seeing this happen here in NYC Metro Area, and it’s terrifying.
When, on the other hand, there is a rapid behavioral response and preventive measures are taken early on in the outbreak, the height of that peak is reduced. Or, in other words, you flatten the curve down. As Dr. Fauci said a couple of weeks ago, “That would have less people infected. That would ultimately have less deaths. You do that by trying to interfere with the natural flow of the outbreak.” This is why most of us had to essentially put our lives on pause- to try to slow that rapid spread. If done right, it can make a big difference:
It can be passed among just a group of people, like family or a group of friends. We also know that asymptomatic transmission is happening. The reason why we’ve seen things like concerts, festivals or sporting events being canceled, is because COVID-19 is believed to be fueled by so-called “super-spreading” events. Events, such as a basketball game or a concert, create perfect circumstances for the virus to spread. Those environments usually include crowded spaces, available hosts (other people) and lots of hard surfaces where the virus can remain active for hours.
WHY SOCIAL PHYSICAL DISTANCING IS CRUCIAL
It’s become clear weeks ago, that with such rapid spread and evidence of asymptomatic transmission, containment was simply no longer possible. At least not here in NY/NJ area. Because the coronavirus is so easily transmitted, it now spreads mainly from person to person. Most states are now reporting community spread (widespread or within defined areas). This means that it doesn’t matter that you haven’t traveled to affected areas or hadn’t been in contact with anyone who has- you’re putting yourself at risk just by leaving the house, as the virus is now spreading within your community.
We couldn’t contain the virus, and we’re now in the mitigation phase. The goal is still to slow the spread and reduce the surge in healthcare needs. It’s all in efforts to enforce physical distancing and limit the spread. Infection rates differ across the country, so each state will have a different epi curve. Each state also has its own mitigation measures put in place (which for the most part, are the same)– here’s a visual representation on a map. Sadly, some states are run by people who remain delusional, in thinking that this will not touch them.
These measures include school closures, canceling of sporting events, closures of all non-essential businesses, ban on group gatherings, “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders, and curfews.
These adjustments are strict, but without safe, proven therapy to treat COVID-19, or a vaccine to prevent it, social distancing is not only the best, but the only weapon we have in this fight.
It doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to suddenly stop all the spread of the coronavirus. People will still get infected, but those numbers would be lower with the spread delayed over the course of weeks, hopefully, months. This lessens the strain on our healthcare system and ultimately, it can save lives. Eventually, some number of newly infected people will be surrounded by those who have recovered (and have better immunity). With that, each of us can reduce the number of people we would potentially infect. By taking such drastic measures, both by the government and individuals, approximately 40 million (!) lives can be saved.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, IT’S ABOUT ALL OF US
The fact is, we are nowhere near where we need to be. These “drastic measures” are still not strict enough. Things will get much, much worse before they start getting better.
Sadly, not only are we fighting a pandemic but also stupidity and ignorance.
Every single day I hear about people throwing “corona” themed parties, meeting in large groups at parks, having playdates, engagement parties. We need to do better than this.
For our families.
For our healthcare workers.
For our pharmacists.
For law enforcement officers.
For state officials.
For local teamsters, grocery store employees, sanitation workers, delivery drivers.
These are the people who are at the frontlines, saving lives. People who quite literally are putting their lives at risk, just so you can buy your favorite cereal at the supermarket, or have your medications delivered, right to your door.
Here is another great illustration by Toby Morris and Dr. Siouxsie Wiles. It shows just how important physical distancing is right now. You can also watch this short interview to see how big of a difference one person can make.
This is why social, or “physical” distancing is so important. If we all get sick at once, we can’t all get treatment and we can’t protect our healthcare workers.
YOU’RE NOT INVINCIBLE
Early on in the outbreak, it was believed that the risk of coronavirus causing serious or lethal illness in young adults was very small. We’re now seeing more and more reports about young people becoming seriously ill, some with no underlying conditions. Just within last week, the US lost three children to COVID-19, including an infant. For weeks we’ve been saying that the only silver lining of this pandemic is that it doesn’t seem to touch kids. This once again proves how much we still don’t know about this coronavirus.
Being young and healthy doesn’t mean that you can’t put others, and their lives, at risk. Even if you, yourself, don’t fall seriously ill.
People over the age of 65 and those who are immunocompromised are still considered high-risk, with 80% of fatalities being within that senior age group. It does not make that loss any less horrible, unfair and devastating. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that being young makes you invincible. CDC reports that (so far) 1 in 5 of those hospitalized were young adults. Some people who get infected won’t experience symptoms more severe than a regular cold. Others won’t experience any symptoms at all, and some will have very severe symptoms.
And, to be fair, it’s not only young people who act recklessly. Even here in NJ, where we have over 34k confirmed cases, and where we’ve been ordered to stay home. Every single day we hear about people being arrested or charged for violating order banning group gatherings. Our state government and law enforcement are literally begging people to stay home, and every day people are being reckless.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Yes, it absolutely is.
Being away from your friends and family sucks.
Making sure that we all stay healthy, and still here once all this is over, is more important.
Because it will take all of us.
While some of us are lucky to be able to work from home (or still have jobs, to even begin with) there are people who don’t have that luxury. Some work in those “essential” industries that are required to stay open and others simply cannot afford not to work.
In those few areas left where “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders have yet to be announced, life hasn’t changed too much.
You can do your part, even if you’re still expected to show up at work. Limit close contact with other people as much as possible- this includes anyone who isn’t a part of your household. Don’t make grocery runs a daily thing, discourage your friends from meeting for drinks. Stay connected, but keep that physical distance.
STAY INFORMED + AVOID CORONAVIRUS MISINFORMATION
Other than the coronavirus itself and the number of people falling ill and dying, the amount of misinformation is one of the most infuriating things at the moment.
The way everything has been handled from the beginning here in the US, at times made me feel almost as if human lives were being toyed with. There are so many mixed signals being sent to the American people. Some don’t know what to believe, while others still insist that an actual pandemic is just a “hoax.” While everyone has a right to believe in and listen to whomever they want, we can’t forget that during this time we need to think of ourselves as one. We need to put our differences aside and remember that this affects all of us.
Your decisions don’t affect only you anymore, just like mine don’t affect just me.
The downplaying of the situation and the amount of misinformation that an average person had to filter through in recent weeks to find answers is ridiculous.
The CDC, the WHO, and even the US Surgeon General lost credibility after urging Americans not to use face masks, saying that they are not effective when used by the general public. Yet, we know that the use of face masks helps prevent virus transmission. We know that places where the use of face masks is widespread, like South Korea, Hong Kong or Japan, reported lower levels of infection. The only reason why we’re being told that they’re not effective is because of global shortages we’re experiencing. Yes, our health workers should be prioritized, but why lie to us?
Who do we believe? Where do we get our information from?
Regardless of what your political views are, avoid getting your information from only one source. Politicians are not meant to be idolized- they are public servants, not celebrities. So many of our governors are working together, which is great. Still, it’s disheartening to see no unity or coordination between states and the federal government. There’s no “real” transparency. This is why it’s so important to look for guidance in people who know what they’re talking about: scientists and doctors (like our national treasure, Dr. Fauci). Johns Hopkins University also provides up to date coronavirus numbers and other helpful information.
WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY IN THIS
As difficult as it is, staying home and away from each other is the most important thing we can do now. The coronavirus doesn’t just “spread”- we’re the ones spreading it. Whether you know it or not. This coronavirus doesn’t respect state borders or boundaries.
The worst of times have proven to show us the best in people. We will get through this, but we need to remember that we all have a role to play in this.
The unknown is scary. All we can do is stay informed and take it one day at a time.
There are some days when it’s very hard for me to stay positive, seeing what’s happening around us. I know that I’m not the only one feeling this way, which is why we can’t forget to take care of ourselves and our mental health. We all need to remember that it’s okay to not be okay. You can still do your part, without being glued to the news all day long. Remember that your mental hygiene and wellness is very important at this time, as is staying connected to your loved ones. Having to keep your distance, doesn’t mean you can’t call or facetime each other and stay connected.
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