And so it began. On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 officially became a world pandemic. So, what does this mean for you?
First, let’s talk about the major health issue, which is transmission. There’s no point in giving you numbers, because they change at such a rapid rate, they could easily double between the time I write this and when Motif publishes it. As of March 11, 121,758 people were infected, 4,382 had died, and the virus had spread to 119 countries. By March 15, there were 162,591 people infected, 6,069 deaths and 157 countries infested. The epicenter of the pandemic has moved from China to Europe. Italy is on lock down and in our own country, lock down procedures are falling into place. Our way of life is going to be interrupted for a while. We are accustomed to going to work sick, gathering in public places, and shaking hands and hugging wherever we go. No more. A new phrase has entered our vocabularies: social distancing. We must keep a safe space between each other; no touching. Universities are switching to online classes. People are working from home; all non-essential travel for employees is suspended. The NBA suspended their season after a player tested positive for COVID-19, and the NHA followed suit. Disneyland is shutting down, public events are getting postponed or cancelled, schools are closing. On March 9, Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency in RI. It may seem drastic, but because of the rate at which this infection spreads, we really have to adapt measures such as these, right now, and stay up to date on all changes.
At coronavirus.gov are the US government updates, and the CDC has set up a special hotline: 1-800-232-4636. There is a website specifically for RI at health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019/. Those with immediate concerns about the coronavirus are encouraged to call the health department’s hotline, 401-222-8022. Rhode Islanders who develop respiratory symptoms are urged to call their healthcare provider before going to a hospital or doctor’s office. No doubt, you are getting notices from your own medical offices and business connections. You should probably read them all. For those who are facing temporary unemployment due to cancellations, you can find out how to apply for benefits at dlt.ri.gov/pdfs/COVID-19%20Workplace%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf. Legislation has already been introduced to provide emergency SNAP assistance to families. Help is on the way.
How dangerous is COVID-19? Some people have very mild symptoms; others find themselves suddenly struggling to breathe and end up on respirators. About 80% of those infected will self resolve, and children who contract COVID-19 have very mild symptoms. The greatest concern is the 20% who are at risk: those with underlying medical conditions. Serious problems such as pneumonia can develop, but the majority of those who come down with it will recover. Unfortunately, the numbers overwhelm all other factors. The biggest medical challenge we are likely to face is the sheer volume of infected patients who will overwhelm medical facilities and hospitals. Essential medical items are already in short supply. One of the items that went off the shelves first was masks; masks are mainly effective when worn by those who are already sick, to prevent the spread of viruses. Your hands are your most vulnerable pick up zone – wash them often, and resist the urge to touch your eyes or mouth.
I asked my friend Dr. H how the medical offices were handling the situation. He is doing a lot of phone triage for coughs and colds now, with patients who opt to stay at home for their consultations. Offices are telling all patients who have any cold or flu symptoms to put a mask on. Dr. H feels this should have been the standard before all this coronavirus – it could save scores of people from being exposed to possible infection — doctors too. Medical workers are not somehow immune from getting sick – they are actually more likely to become ill, due to treating sick people. Dr. H: “Hopefully, the way we try to avoid exposing ourselves to colds and flu will change for the better with what we learn from this crisis.”
We all watched the stock market shut down and crash, then shut down and crash again in the same week after the Trump’s less than reassuring speech on March 11. The population is in disaster mode. People are hoarding toilet paper and bleach; I stood in line for over an hour today to buy food in a grocery store where shelves were becoming bare. World conferences have been cancelled, and the travel industry has gone to hell. Oil price wars are panicking the markets. It’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall. No one can predict the outcome at this point, although the market numbers rose again after a national emergency was finally declared on March 13.
Is it the end of the world as we know it? Perhaps it is. But the thing to remember is that this is happening because the world has already changed. The timing was right for a pandemic. There were warning signs all along the way and we ignored them. Perhaps now we will finally listen.