It Goes On and On

It’s been two weeks since the Dutch government decided to close the schools, finally convinced not only by a panel of experts and healthcare specialists, but by public demand for schools to be closed because people were less than thrilled to have their children be potentially exposed to a dangerous virus and in addition become disease vectors, even if – thank goodness – nearly no children appear to become terribly ill from SARS-CoV-2.

In our house, it has been an adjustment, but not nearly as much as I had feared. To be fair, we’re self-isolating in relative luxury: we have enough food, drink and – and apparently this is a thing – toilet paper. (We have not hoarded toilet paper, yet I don’t worry that we’ll run out.) We also have a very pleasant garden with a trampoline and a comfortable seating area and now that the sun is out almost every day we spend a lot of our time outside, albeit with blankets to keep us warm because sunny does not equal warm, sadly.

A COVID-19 prevention information sheet posted in a window at our local shopping center

Of course, modern tech makes situations like these a lot easier than they have ever been before. We have phones, video calling apps, messaging apps, email and social media to stay in touch with those we care about, so we can keep ourselves and each other from feeling entirely isolated, and to help us stay abreast of what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Not to mention the access technology gives us to the information that is currently available on this strange, new virus. (Please try to limit yourself to information that is scientifically sound, and to cut out misinformation, disinformation and uninformed talking heads that are seeking to use this situation to sow division. We’ve got enough to deal with right now. This is a global pandemic; let’s look at how we can beat this together – apart, but together.)

The children have adapted to their new reality quite well; both the 12-year old and the 5-year old understand that keeping physical distance from others is important to keep everyone safe, not just ourselves. We’re trying as much as we can to keep a certain routine to our day: get up around 7 am, get dressed, have breakfast, do schoolwork while taking regular breaks for trampoline jumping, and then do some cleaning up at the end of the day before getting ready for dinner, and then bed.

With all that we’re doing to help flatten the curve in order for our healthcare system not to become overwhelmed, we still see people taking this thing lightly, and it astounds me. What we know about this virus is scary, what we don’t know is scarier still.

Things we know (or think we do):

Things we don’t know:

With all this, some things should really be perfectly clear to everyone by now. We don’t want to reach the point where healthcare workers need to start deciding who they will treat and who they won’t – as is already the case in Italy, for instance – simply because there is not enough capacity to treat everyone who falls ill with this virus. We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where Corona cases so overwhelm the system that there is no more capacity for treating other, non-Corona patients, whether they be patients who require urgent care or patients whose care might not be urgent now, but whose care will become urgent if they don’t receive timely treatment. If that happens, it won’t only be COVID-19 patients that die, but there will be many more other and otherwise preventable deaths.

And, finally, we don’t want healthcare workers working in hazardous conditions in gear that is not sufficiently suited to protecting them from infection. We need to protect these people as they are putting in superhuman efforts to save as many as they can, despite being completely overwhelmed by this outbreak. It should not even need saying that when healthcare workers start falling away, we will be in an unimaginable world of trouble.

The reality we currently find ourselves in is, for want of a more sophisticated word, a running shit show. Effective, informed decisions to prevent the scope of this epidemic should have been made much earlier, but we’re past that point. Now, politics should not have anything to do with how anyone sees this clear and present danger. I didn’t think it was possible, but even under these circumstances, left and right seem to have become even further entrenched and alienated, and it’s because facts and reality have been relegated to the sidelines over the past few years as battle lines were drawn.

This being what it is, no-one’s politics will protect them from the reality of what COVID-19 is doing to everyone around the world. This virus is complex, and there is no silver bullet. One of the main problems we face today is that people who choose to, or are convinced to, set aside the facts in favor of some politician’s desired and often imaginary outcome become a danger to others because they refuse to implement the measures that will keep not only themselves, but also those others safe.

I can’t wrap my head around that. All I can do is make sure that I and my family are as safe as we can be, and to self-isolate until this pandemic is under control. That’s going to take time, but if a little discomfort now means we can still have a later, we’ll be safe, rather than sorry, not just for ourselves, but for everyone else as well.

Finally, a massive thank you to everyone putting themselves in harm’s way to help us through this: EMTs, nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, police, firemen, military personnel, chefs, delivery workers, supermarket staff, pharmacy staff, drugstore staff, and the many others that are keeping our society running. I can’t thank you enough – you’re our superheroes!

Corona Containment

Image from

The morning after new measures were announced to try and contain the spread of SARS-CoV2 in the Netherlands schools are still not closing, the logic being that schools are not very international environments and children don’t seem to get very sick anyway. Also, children staying home from school prevents parents in healthcare professions, for instance, from going to work, because the children need to be cared for.

The problem with that logic is that we don’t know exactly how this things spreads and whether it can also spread from asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Children who are carriers can and likely will spread the illness at home. Parents working in those crucial professions will then still catch and carry the illness (purpose of measure defeated), either becoming sick themselves or potentially exposing more vulnerable people.

A current R0 of 2.5 for this thing means that between 40% and 70% of the world population would become infected with Corona:

Containment is vital at this point if we want to prevent Italian situations, as experts in the field of epidemiology are warning us: (in Dutch), and evidence suggests that school closures are among the more powerful weapons we have to flatten the curve:

There have been reports from Brabant that there is already not enough capacity to test medical personnel at this point in time – (in Dutch) – nor are we able to find the source of each infection, which is worrying:

Last night, our PM spent a lot of time not really answering questions as to why other countries seem capable of closing their schools when we apparently are not (though he did say at one point that he wouldn’t mind closing schools if the advice to do so was stringent enough and he felt it was feasible): (in Dutch). Thankfully, at least a motion was passed last night declaring that parents who do choose to keep their children home preventatively will not be faced with fines. It’s a start.

As a side note: unfortunately one of the loudest voices for more far-reaching measures in the debate was one of our extreme right wing politicians, Geert Wilders. While he made good points regarding the virus and our inadequate measures of containment, I am fearful that this will give him more of a political foothold, which would be detrimental for our country, as the rest of his political platform is worryingly xenophobic at best.

But I digress.

One of the biggest problems we face at the moment in this country is that many people still underestimate the seriousness of this disease. The Dutch will say this is “Nederlandse nuchterheid” (Dutch down-to-earthness ), to which I say: there is a fine line between that and negligence/stupidity. Even confronted with truly horrible scenes in Italy, many Dutch people still seem to feel like Corona won’t hit us as hard even if we don’t take the recommended containment measures. That is an illusion.

Even if it is true that many people will likely not become seriously ill from SARS-CoV2, we have a vulnerable share of the population to take into account for which this illness is potentially fatal, and a responsibility to each other – despite expectations that most people who fall ill will recover – not to infect one another if we can prevent it. If you need it put in plainer terms: I don’t think anyone would be particularly thrilled if their friends infected them with an illness, even if they wouldn’t die from the result.

We will have to wait and see how this develops, but for the time being our family is being extra careful and running as little risk as possible, both for our own safety and for the safety of others. We hope others will do the same.