LIVING THROUGH A PANDEMIC

It’s hard seeing memes out there saying “keep calm and wash your hands” when you have a loved one who is medically fragile or susceptible to respiratory distress. We know how to keep calm, we’ve done it many times while rushing them to the emergency room or even calling 911.

So wash your hands, thumb through some content that is useful, not condescending, and feel however you want to feel.

FACTS

COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It’s also known as new or novel coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In some cases there is diarrhea. Others have reported a loss of their sense of smell and taste before the onset of other symptoms. Many exhibit no symptoms, but the virus can still spread from asymptomatic individuals.

COVID-19 spreads much like the common cold – through coughing, sneezing, close contact, and ingesting fecal matter. The virus is so new, we do not know that much about it. Recent research conducted on one of the quarantined cruise ships indicates it can live on surfaces for 17 days. Surface transmission is likely; but transmission through close contact and respiratory droplets released when we sneeze or cough are the easiest ways to get it.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe disease such a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Coronaviruses are zoonotic, according to the World Health Organization, which means they are transmitted between animals and people. For example, SARS came from cats. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) came from camels. The origin of COVID-19 is still unknown, though Chinese scientists suspect it came from a wet market in Wuhan that sold wild meat and the source is likely bats or the pangolin. According to the journal Nature, the ant-eater’s meat is eaten in China and its scales are used in traditional medicine. Sales of the animal are forbidden as part of a worldwide ban, but it is still traded in China and is a hot commodity and smuggled to southeast Asian and African countries.

According to the New York Times, adults, especially older adults, are more susceptible to the virus. Scientists suspect that because children come into contact with coronaviruses regularly, their immune systems are more robust. They are not immune though, and could be asymptomatic but spreading it. Statistics out of China show that only 1 percent of those diagnosed were 10-years-old or younger. And 1 percent were between 10 and 19 years of age. 87 percent of those infected were adults ages 30-79. The theory is that immunity to these common viruses wares off as we grow older and leaves adults vulnerable.

FEARS

The Italian mortality rate of COVID-19  is 7.2 percent. The virus has a 2.3 percent death rate in China, according to a study on the first 45,000 patients in Wuhan. That number has changed and will continue to change as the virus spreads and more are tested. On the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. compared this to the flu epidemic of 1918, commonly referred to as the “Spanish Flu.” That virus had a death rate of 2.5 percent, McNeil noted that everyone from that era knew someone who died from the Spanish Flu. Currently, on its work years the annual flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent.

What makes this novel coronavirus so scary is that it is very transmissible. McNeil has covered many epidemics throughout his career, he noted that unlike a common cold, COVID 19 attaches deep in your lungs which is why so many people are getting pneumonia. It’s a viral pneumonia, so antibiotics do not help.

While McNeil prefers not to speculate, he has said we will likely be in this for the long haul. Measures to stop it in the United States are inconsistent and currently not aggressive enough. This virus is spreading rapidly. Some have suggested it might subside in the summer, as some viruses do in hot weather. But it is currently spreading fast in countries along the equator where it is hot year-round. Some scientists have warned that we could see a boomerang effect where it subsides in the United States, spreads across the Southern Hemisphere and comes back north with a vengeance next fall and winter. There is no way to know. These are unprecedented times.

Most cases of COVID-19 are mild, based on that Chinese study about 80 percent of people have a fever and a cough and not much more. That is part of what makes this virus so dangerous. Many people might not even know they have it and the virus will continue to spread. For the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, this can be lethal.

What is alarming is that for those patients who have been hospitalized, interventions are not as effective as you’d expect. Steroids, Tamiflu, antibiotics (for secondary bacterial pneumonia), and ventilators are not always saving lives. Additionally, in a widespread outbreak like this, hospitals do not have enough equipment, staff, or protective gear to handle a huge influx of patients in need of extensive and ongoing care.

There is currently no treatment for this virus, only the symptoms of it. There is no vaccine yet; it typically takes at least a year to develop one.

PREVENTION

  • Wash your hands, then wash them again. Sing the first few verses of a favorite song to make sure you’re washing for 20 seconds. Washing seems like a no brainer, but for children who have difficulty changing routine, now is the time to form the habit of washing before every meal and whenever coming in from outside. Get your entire family used to washing often.
  • Insist that everyone coming into your home washes their hands.
  • Use alcohol based hand purifiers. There are instructions to make your own online.
  • Do not touch your face.
  • Respect the stay at home orders and encourage others to do the same.
  • Utilize delivery services whenever possible to reduce exposure.
  • Keep your distance from others; recommendation is 6 feet.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throw your tissues away.
  • Clean frequently used surfaces such as door handles, faucets, phones, remotes, etc.
  • Keep sanitizing wipes on hand for public places.
  • Keep purifier/wipes on you and use after pumping gas, using the ATM, exchanging money or credit cards, etc.
  • For those with compromised immune systems: the family should consider washing clothes after going out and wearing clean clothes to bed.
  • If you are sick, stay home. If you might have been exposed, stay home.
  • Don’t share drinks, dishes, desserts or water bottles.
  • Label water bottles and cups if needed.
  • Keep toothbrushes separate. If you are particularly concerned, consider personal toothpaste tubes too.
  • Replace toothbrushes after every illness.
  • Rethink the facemask. We consulted a pulmonologist who stated, “The mask needed to protect against the virus requires a proper fit as it is not a standard mask. The CDC at this time is not recommending people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves.”
  • If you are at risk, consult your doctor about finding the right mask. Stores are sold out. Many of our medical professionals need them more than us, so consider donating them.
  • If you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing call your doctor immediately. They can give you orders to get tested.

PREPARATION

This is not time to panic, but it is time to prepare. Many of us are already ready for a slew of “in case of emergency” scenarios. It’s time to add pandemic to your list.

Are your meds fully stocked? What about medical supplies and wound care? Do you have steroids and inhalers on hand? Do you have insulin? Is the humidifier working and cleaned? Do you have distilled water for it?

One important thing that McNeil, the New York Times reporter mentioned is being prepared not just for an impending illness but for the possibility of being quarantined to our homes for a month. This is not the time to rush out and buy all the toilet paper and canned goods off the shelf. But it is a good time to pick up a few extra nonperishable items every time we go to the store. Make a list of items you would need over the course of a month and slowly build supplies. This crisis isn’t ending any time soon. Think of others while you shop. Offer to pick things up for a neighbor. Don’t hoard items or empty the shelves.

For those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, keep in touch with your employer about needs. Request your hours be changed so you can care for your family and still get your work done. Do what you need to to keep your children occupied. Talk to neighbors about doing a board game swap and leave items at doorsteps. Set up an obstacle course to entertain your children. Start a puzzle. If there is a project you’ve been meaning to get to like painting a room, do it. Hardware stores are considered essential.

Meeting our children’s academic needs while juggling work and life is going to be difficulty, if not impossible for many of us. Some of our children have teams of 4 or more during their school day. Reach out to their school team for ideas. But also cut yourself some slack. Keep in mind that all students are missing school. All American students are missing a huge chunk of their school year. We’re in this together and we’re figuring it out together. First time you, first time them. Empathy for each other is so critical, now more than ever.

Keep in mind that with a pandemic, the way other states and countries react or are affected can impact us. Think about global trade – supply lines from major importers could slow or even stop. Consider how reliant we are on items made in China. Think about how farmers here might be impacted as this year goes on.

Support local businesses if you can, they are hurting right now. Pick up coffee beans from your favorite cafe. There is no evidence that COVID-19 is a food-borne illness, so delivery from your favorite restaurant is OK. And tip well. If you have a cleaning service and can afford to pay them, do it.

This is a tough time for families like ours as well as respite workers, nurses, and personal care attendants. Because of the high risk of our medically fragile loved ones, we have to be extraordinarily careful who comes into our homes. Some families are able to keep services going. Others are having to put this on hold. It is a personal decision for each individual. You will not lose your waiver if you opt to isolate your home from outsiders.

As difficult as this time is, it is critical our society figures out how to handle epidemics and pandemics. Scientists have long warned that it is only a matter of time before a pandemic sweeps across the globe. We also need to be prepared for extreme weather events on the rise due to climate change. Create a plan for various scenarios and take stock of it annually. Think about rotating those nonperishable food items every year so you’re always stocked. Talk to your doctor about always having a 90-day supply of critical medicine at home and keep up with those prescriptions. Make sure your generator is always ready to go, regardless of the forecast. Buy portable batteries you can charge your cell phone with. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about how you can help each other. Create an emergency phone tree so you can account for everyone in your circle of support.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. This is a swiftly developing issue, we need to pay attention.

Want to talk to someone about how to prepare for emergencies? Connect on our helpline! We have staff and volunteers ready to help. They will return your call or email within 48 hours.

email: cfihelpline@vcu.edu

Call: (877) 567-1122

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