Updated: Apr 3, 2020
u likely will get coronavirus. There is no place to hide.
We are each at risk for contracting the virus. We just are. Once upon a time when there were epidemics (such as polio in the 1950s), plagues, and pestilence, some members of society were somewhat protected. The privileged, the powerful, the prosperous, the prominent could sometimes cloister themselves at remote sanctuaries. Some could hire the best of medical care or lived in an environment where they could protect themselves because they had access to sanitation, vaccinations, and routine health practices.
No longer. Not now.
The COVID-19 pandemic does not honor power or privilege or prominence. Nor does it honor who we are, what we do, our zip code, our bank account, our age, or relative health. In the absence of a vaccine to prevent us from getting the virus or consistently effective drugs to cure us if we get it, most countries now acknowledge the proven value of social distancing.
This new hidden and mighty organism is maliciously infective, which means if you’re around it, you’ll get it. And epidemics are fueled by person-to-person transfer through droplets of a cough or just breathing out or by touching surfaces where the virus droplets remain potent even up to several days. Think of the virus as glitter floating in the air and landing on surfaces. Tiny particles of deadly disease.
If you are isolated, inside, away from others and areas people who are infected may have touched or coughed on, you can put yourself in a relatively safe environment. Wholesale lockdown of cities like something out of a science fiction movie, while almost draconian, has been effective in keeping people from transmitting the virus to each other.
Most cities are now in the midst of “stay-at-home” as well as “shelter-in-place” orders. My wife and I are among them in Rochester, Minnesota, where the only event that kept us at home before was an old-fashioned Midwestern blizzard.
Here’s what you can do (depending on the governmental mandates in your area):
Drive to the grocery store or pharmacy (use the drive-through) for food, medicine, and gasoline. Wear gloves and use hand sanitizer and wash your hands when you come home.
Go outside to walk, hike, bike, and run. If you stop to talk to neighbors, stay six feet away (the distance a virus can travel if coughed).
You may seek care for family emergencies or domestic violence. Police are seeing an uptick in calls about domestic violence.
Isolation has its downside, and these are some of them:
Depression and anxiety especially when there is an indeterminate time of confinement with no clear endpoint. At least snow melts and we can get back to work and daily activities.
An increase in behaviors such as smoking and drinking. If you are vulnerable, see if you can call your therapist or a support group (many are meeting online).
A worsening of preexisting illness from heart disease as well as dementia. Healthcare providers are now able to talk with you by phone and be reimbursed by insurance.
Weight gain when your well-stocked refrigerator and pantry are close at hand. In fact this gain has humorously been dubbed the COVID-15, a play on the Freshman-15 pounds most college kids put on their first year. If your gym is closed and most are, improvise at home with weights (water in milk cartons and soup cans for weights; walk up and down stairs; do sit-ups and pushups, yoga pr Zumba with YouTube videos). And while you’re online, find apps and videos for meditation and mindfulness.
Social isolation can produce apathy and lethargy and a sense of helplessness, a feeling of weariness. Try to keep a predictable sleep and wake cycle, consistent mealtimes, projects and programs to be initiated and completed generating a sense of accomplishment.
Watch your computer for quirky emails (don't open and don't forward them) that contain viruses (the computer kind, the ones we used to worry about more). Tech people are saying emails about coronavirus may actually contain harmful computer viruses.
How can you cope with a major disruption of lifestyle and well-being? How can you stay grounded and focused during a time of relative confinement, of community-wide peril?
Make a deliberate attempt to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. This can be as simple as a text message, an email, or phone call (even Facetime or Skype). Say, “Just checking in. How are you doing?”
Offer to help a neighbor or family member. “Leaving for the grocery store to pick up some things. Do you need anything? I’ll leave them at your front door and text you when I do.”
Keep informed but not on news overload. Some local newspapers are available online.
Make a daily to-do list. Knock off those projects you’ve been meaning to get around to: clean the garage or a closet, learn PowerPoint, update your resume (especially if your job is in jeopardy or you have been laid off), apply for unemployment if eligible, explore skills via Coursera and other online learning platforms, read books on Kindle (libraries offer free downloads and plenty of ebooks are free or at low cost).
This enforced seclusion with stay-at-home mandates is clearly not optional. With the meteoric spread of the virus, we are all part of a social contract to protect ourselves and our communities. We must get this right because tomorrow is uncertain.
[My gift to you: I have lowered the price of my award-winning ebook, How Not to Be My Patient: A Physician’s Secrets for Staying Healthy and Surviving Any Diagnosis, to just 99 cents. You can download from Amazon at this link.]