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.
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):
- R0 for SARS-CoV-2 at the moment is anywhere from 1.4 to 3.4 – those numbers don’t sound so bad, but exponential growth is a bitch;
- elderly people and people with underlying health conditions are more likely to fall very ill with COVID-19 than others;
- it’s likely that the disease can be spread by people who are asymptomatic;
- a majority of people who catch COVID-19 will have mild symptoms (which can still be very unpleasant);
- the incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 is 2 – 14 days, though most people will start feeling ill after 5 days;
- younger people are at risk, too;
- some survivors will have permanent lung damage;
- healthcare workers and institutions will become completely overwhelmed if we don’t manage to flatten the curve;
- practicing social distancing and keeping 1.5 meters distance from others when you do go out, washing your hands well and regularly, and coughing and sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand can help prevent infection.
Things we don’t know:
- why younger, seemingly perfectly healthy people are also ending up in hospital with COVID-19 and even dying – here is a breakdown per age group (compiled on 23 March 2020);
- why men seem more likely to fall seriously ill and even die than women;
- how long COVID-19 patients remain infectious;
- whether this virus is likely, like seasonal flu, to produce seasonal strains that might make people sick again, even if they’ve already had this strain;
- whether, like the Spanish flu of 1918, COVID-19 will hit us in waves;
- and, as a result, how long all of this is going to take.
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!