As we live through the covid-19 outbreak, there are a few things gnawing at me. Most of these things stem from the same place – people who don’t understand social distancing.
Here’s the thing. You have two; count them one, two; jobs to do. First you need to wash your hands. Second you need to stay home. These tasks are not hard. They don’t require a lot of effort. But they are beyond important, and some of you don’t get it.
I am not a scientist. I’m not a medical provider, although I do maintain that I would be a very convincing TV doctor. If you know me well, you probably know I was an English (communication arts) major in college. In fact, I was terrible at both math and science. If I can wrap my mind around this, so can you.
I, like many others, have a few members of my family who fall into the high risk category should they be exposed to covid-19. My parents and mother-in-law all fall into the risk category by age and pre-existing conditions that include diabetes and autoimmune disease. I don’t know how they would fair if infected, and I don’t really want to find out. Two of my children have medical histories that include lung disease and other pre-existing conditions. I don’t want to find out what covid-19 would do to a 3-year-old who still sleeps with oxygen and has shunted hydrocephalus. I really don’t want to know what it would do to 3-year-old who is in an active treatment for cancer and very recently underwent an organ transplant. Additionally, I don’t want to know what it’s like not to be able to get a hospital bed when they need it because the hospitals are filled to capacity with covid-19 cases.
Our country is calling us to slow the spread of this virus to both protect people in the high risk category, and to ease the burden on the health care system. It’s an important and right thing to do, even if you think everyone is overreacting. Spoiler alert: we aren’t.
Wash Your Hands
It sounds so simple, but just wash your hands. Wash them regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash them after you have been to a public place. Wash them before and after you touch your face. Wash them after you use the toilet. Wash them before you eat. Just wash your hands. In some instances, you can use hand sanitizer.
You do not need gloves. There already is a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers. Please don’t think you need gloves, or masks, to go out into the world. If we start rushing to buy gloves, it only hurts health workers. Just be smart and wash your hands.
While you are at it, don’t forget to disinfect surfaces. Especially your phone. Washing your hands won’t matter if you constantly have your phone in your hands and you never wipe it down. You will only recontaminate yourself.
Just wash your hands.
Stay home as much as you possibly can. Staying home reduces the number of people you interact with and reduces the number of potential contagion sources (a.k.a., people who could spread covid-19 to you).
If you have the option to work from home, do it. If you don’t that is OK. It likely means your job is essential in our society. So if you are part of the glue that hold our society together, thank you! When you go to work, be smart. Disinfect surfaces regularly. Wash your hands regularly. And try not to touch anyone unnecessarily.
If you are going out, ask yourself if it is essential. If you’re not sure, allow me to help.
- Groceries – ESSENTIAL
- Send only one person from your home, if possible. This is not a normal time in our lives, don’t take your children out with you (certainly if you don’t have childcare, it’s a different story).
- Many stores have grocery pick up. Utilize this option whenever possible.
- Prescription medication – ESSENTIAL
- Medical appointments – DEPENDS
- Call your provider first.
- Routine appointments are being rescheduled.
- Have your provider triage you over the phone, or maybe utilize telemedicine.
- Hospitals – DEPENDS
- Are you dying? If yes, please go.
- Did your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner tell you to go? If yes, then go.
- Are you in labor? If yes, call your OBGYN or midwife and follow her/his instructions.
- Are you going for something that can be done elsewhere? If you are going for a pregnancy test, a headache, anything that can wait, you need to know you might not even be seen in the ER for days, because the sickest people will come first, and this is a pandemic.
*People with underlying health conditions know how to contact their care team first and let their providers figure out whether they need to go to a hospital.
- Carryout food – NICE TO HAVE – it’s not essential, but can be done occasionally.
- This doesn’t mean you should sit at the bar while it’s prepared.
- This is not an invitation to plan running into friends.
- This is the best time to order online, pay online, and pick up in the store, or have it delivered.
- Parks – NICE TO HAVE
- If it’s empty, I guess, but wash your hands when you are done.
- If there are some people, stay at least 6 feet away.
- If it’s crowded (do you see more than 10 people where you are?), turn around and go home.
- Don’t you dare plan a picnic with your extended family.
- Nail salons, hair salons, tattoo parlors – LUXURY ITEMS
- Your actions are increasing your risk and the risk for those in the salons. Really those places should be closed in the first place.
- Target, Dollar General, and other retailors – DEPENDS
- Are you buying an essential? Cleaning products? Toilet paper? Food? If yes, you are fine and should go. Just keep your distance from others and wash your hands.
- Are you buying gifts or activities? Are you there to witness the pandemonium? Are there because it’s part of your daily routine and you are tired of being alone at home? If yes, STOP IT! Stop looking for ways to expose yourself and others. I don’t care if you feel fine. Go home, wash your hands, and stay there. You get lonely, pick up a phone.
Know What You Are Sharing
If you are sharing “helpful tips” on how to live through social distancing, I hope you have real life experience before 2020.
I’m not sure the Maryland Department of Health has ever been cut off from the world before. If it had, it would know that screen time and social media are one of the few things that might make you still feel connected to others. Or at least distract you from your current situation. I on the other hand (shameless self promotion) have been social distancing long before it had a name. I do have tips for you. I do know what I’m talking about, I have lived through it more than once, and prior to 2020.
Now if you find certain sources in your social media feed to trigger strong emotional responses, unfollow them. But don’t throw the towel in on the whole thing. Now may be the time to find new sources on your feed. Follow new people or a new hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Join a new group on Facebook. Figure out Snapchat and TikTok. Video conference friends and family. Stay connected, or surviving the coming days, weeks, maybe even months is going to be very hard.
Don’t Minimize The Importance of Social Distancing
First, I am not talking about covid-19 memes, song parodies, and the things that keep us laughing through this time. Laughter is what will keep many of us sane during all of this.
I’m talking about the stories that refer to those of us who are social distancing as sissies.
Following the guidelines of social distancing, doesn’t mean that someone is weak. I don’t want to see or hear how older generations lived through polio and measles and didn’t quarantine. Yes we have lived through a lot of viruses and diseases, many much more dangerous than covid-19. However, this one spreads quickly. People carrying the disease can spread it before they know they are contagious. If you want to compare covid-19 to anything an older generation may have seen, it’s the 1918 Spanish flu. And even with that, you would have to be at least 102 to have lived through it, and at least 104 or 105 to remember anything about it.
Similarly, don’t rationalize your blatant disregard of social distancing by figuring out how many people you encounter doing the things you have to do (work, getting groceries). You still are increasing the TOTAL number of people you contact. If you work with 20 people providing an essential service, and later go out but only see six people, you still came in contact with 26 people who could have infected you, or whom you could have infected.
Stop dismissing the actions of social distancing. It’s not the same as going off to war, but your choices can and will affect how many people die as a result of this outbreak.
WASH YOUR HANDS. STAY AT HOME. THAT’S ALL YOU HAVE TO DO.