Nobody really saw it coming-- at least in the perspective of the general public just going about in their daily lives and were unaware of the specifics of the novel virus, Corona (COVID-19). Then suddenly, mandates of "social distancing", self-isolation and quarantining became familiar phrases to somehow "flatten the curve". Just like most people, I have been spending a majority of my time by staying home and one way of being productive was reading different materials about this pandemic as I am pretty sure that just like everybody, we all have unanswered questions or sometimes conflicting information about it.
I was supposed to write and share a journal about a Jewish spiritual retreat in The Berkshires (Connecticut area) in mid-March but since the event was cancelled like all major events that involve a large number of groups and gathering; I decided to write an article tackling and covering general information on different issues about COVID-19 as a way of providing informative material that one may find helpful in these trying times that we are facing. However, I would like to give a disclosure that I am not a medical expert and most of the information that were written here are based on gathered information from trusted sources and websites like The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
ORIGIN OF COVID-19 AND "MUST KNOW" FACTS
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.
Did you know that? Coronaviruses derive their name from the fact that under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona,” or halo. On February 11,2020; The World Health Organization proposed an official name for the disease which is COVID-19 (an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease 2019).
The disease was first identified on December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. While I was doing my research, this article written by the editor-in-chief of Live Science; Jeanna Bryner, that prior to the first identified case, there was a 55-year-old individual from Hubei province may have been the first person to have contracted the disease back in November 2019. However, after scientific findings proved that there were no direct links nor connections to the incident. By December 31st, the government of Wuhan has confirmed that health authorities were already treating cases that were infected by the virus (which was later known as COVID-19) which has also infected dozens of people in Asia. Fast forward to January 11, 2020-- the first known death from an illness caused by the virus was reported in China and by the end of January, The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency as thousands of cases were reported not only in China but rapidly in a global scale.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19? The most common symptoms are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. While older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
While one may think that the "common" symptoms may be a little confusing as it could be symptoms of the seasonal flu; ultimately, you are your body's judge-- health officials suggest that it is best to seek professional medical help to get tested for the virus if you believe that you have been in close contact to someone who may have been infected with the virus. Though to this day, testing sites and kits may be limited depending on each state and area.
What about the virus' incubation period? The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. Nonetheless, it is important to take note that asymptomatic transmission can happen at any given time as emphasized by medical experts as a person may show nor produce signs of symptoms but can still be a carrier and eventually spread the virus without fully knowing it (until tested and confirmed for the virus).
How does the virus spread? The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.
Contrary to popular belief that the virus is airborne, studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air.
What can I do to protect myself and avoid the spread? While the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 changes everyday, it is always advisable to stay up-to-date and informed with reliable news and sources. Moreover, there are simple ways that one can protect and reduce the chances of getting infected whilst avoiding the spread of disease by practicing precautionary measures and good respiratory hygiene.
- Washing your hands thoroughly and properly using soap and lukewarm water. I usually sing the Happy Birthday song in my head twice. Growing up, it has always been a habit of mine to wash my hands a little longer (30 seconds at least). This should be your first protective gear to combat any virus.
- Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Plus, always make sure to be considerate when you sneeze. It is best to sneeze into a paper tissue rather than a cloth handkerchief to prevent the spread of cold germs. But if there is no tissue nearby, the best way to cover a cough is to place the mouth into the inner elbow to release it-- that is the proper way. Never use your hands to cover your mouth.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
- If you feel sick and unwell, stay home. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
Is there a cure for COVID-19? To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019. However, those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. People with serious illness should be hospitalized while most patients recover thanks to supportive care. Currently, possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under investigation and are being tested through clinical trials.
What makes COVID-19 different from others? While the virus from COVID-19 and SARS in 2003 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are related genetically, the diseases they cause are different. SARS is deadlier but less infectious than COVID-19 and there have been no outbreaks of SARS anywhere in the world since 2003. In addition, SARS symptoms were more severe and easier to identify as opposed to COVID-19.
Did you know that? According to The World Health Organization; the new coronavirus can be transmitted in all areas, including areas with hot and humid temperature. When I have seen people posting information and claiming that COVID-19 does not like hot temperature, it clearly raised a question mark in my thoughts and wanted to see if there is any validity in the claim. While the nature of this novel virus is ever-changing, it is always best to be informed by trustworthy sources. For more myth busters about COVID -19, this link will lead you to WHO's page while this link will direct you to CDC's page for frequently asked questions about the virus.
SOCIAL DISTANCING? QUARANTINE WHAT?
Earlier this year when I started hearing bits and pieces of news about COVID-19 and how China has closed its borders to quarantine in hopes of preventing the spread of virus, I was not worried about it. I was thinking to myself that it could be one of those viruses like SARS, Ebola and other seasonal viruses that will be contained at some point and will be handled eventually. I was even shocked to hear that it spread so quickly in Italy, being the hardest hit country in Europe that warranted the country for a lockdown as well. I even sent a message to a friend who lives in Venice with her husband to check on them and see how they were doing. I have to admit that I was probably "too naive" to think that even if cases were reported in The USA, it would not hit home this hard the way it is hitting all of us now. I felt that sense of being invincible against the disease but I was wrong.
What is Social Distancing? According to the CDC, it is defined as "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible". Congregate settings include crowded public spaces like shopping centers, movie theaters, and stadiums.
Fast forward to private companies starting to implement and slowly enforcing social distancing meant cancellations of big sporting events, gatherings, conferences, music festivals (e.g NBA season suspended, Tokyo Summer Olympics postponed to next year and Hollywood movie premiers call for rescheduling on later dates). As these chain of events started rolling came my own self-realization that it could actually be severe and hit not only our social lives but the economy as a whole as it will take a big hit and blow on income loss with a lot of people who are dependent and work on industries such as tourism, hospitality, performing arts and the likes. The final blow came on March 13,2020 when states across the nation took even stronger approaches to fighting the coronavirus as Trump announced new federal actions (US-border lockdown) to try and halt the growing economic chaos from the pandemic. Some of the measures include the following:
- Restricting nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico
- Allowing borrowers with federal student loans to be able to pause their payments for two months without interest accruing
- Enacting the Defense Production Act to get critical medical supplies
While for the average person, one may think that it is a drastic change in one's routine, it is not necessarily staying in and isolating yourself. Social distancing is different from self-isolation and quarantine even though the three requires limiting personal and social contact, but on different levels. Social distancing means being very mindful and considerate of making sure that one stays at home unless it is an essential trip (e.g. going to the grocery to get food, stopping by at the pharmacy to get one's prescriptions and /or medications) or working remotely/ homeschooling (for the time being while the majority of companies and schools are shut until further notice) while the practice is in place. Exercising such measures may decrease one's chances of being exposed to the virus.
What about quarantining and self-isolation? Isolation and self-isolation separate sick people from those who are not ill, and it can happen under medical supervision or not. Quarantine and self-quarantine, on the other hand, refers to separating and restricting the movement of those who are not yet sick, but have been exposed to the virus to see if they become sick. The procedures for those who are self-isolating or self-quarantining for COVID-19 are similar, per the CDC: to stay home away from the general public and even limit contact with those they live with who are not infected with the virus.
What about flattening the curve? Flattening the curve refers to community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers. Below, is a sample epidemic curve, with and without social distancing:
Thus, social distancing is strongly implemented and enforced in major cities, especially hard hit states such as New York, to help control the rising numbers of cases that could possibly go out of hand if not contained sooner. A potential surge of cases will not be manageable nor beneficial; given the fact that there is already a shortage of protective equipments and ventilators in hospitals and limited number of hospital beds, space and manpower causes heightened concerns.
Should I wear a mask at this point? While the general healthy public is advised not to wear masks considering the shortage of personal protective equipments in the hospitals (protective gears such as masks and gloves), those who are ill with COVID-19 and are around people should protect others by wearing a face mask.
On the side note, I have to admit to be one of the individuals who started wearing the mask and disposable gloves every time I go to the grocery and other public places because I suffer from seasonal allergy that makes me cough continuously and sneeze a lot. With that being said, and sadly, people are quick to judge with the paranoia that you may be sick once they see you cough in public. In my attempts to avoid potential "scare" in public, I wear these protective gears to contain any allergic reactions I may have while on an essential trip.
COPING WITH THE POTENTIAL NEW NORM
In the beginning, I was one of the individuals who started freaking out when social distancing was put in place and that everyone was mandated to "stay at home". At my age, I started to really enjoy relaxing in the comforts of my home but anyone can relate that as individuals, at some point, there is that hunger and sense of physical interaction that everyone needs from time to time-- some more than others. What is mind-boggling about this novel virus is that unlike any other pandemic or virus that the world experienced and faced such as the 1918 Spanish flu, SARS, Ebola-- these did not call for social distancing or a national lockdown. So why this virus? Going back to the virus' very nature of how it can potentially spread and how it can be contained was through lesser social and physical interaction, hence social distancing, self-quarantine or self-isolation whatever the case may be for specific situations.
As COVID-19 continues to dramatically alter lives, we are confronted with profound changes in our routines and daily lives and without a doubt, give a different perspective and view of what we see as "normal". But amidst our new reality, we must not truly forget the goal of all these challenging moments and times. The goal is to find a major breakthrough: a cure or a vaccine for this novel virus. Therefore, sacrificing or should I say, temporarily "postponing" our normalcy by staying home and limiting ourselves to the "social world" as we once knew it, then we must do so. Everyone is taking a hit: from the economy's massive loss, to the death tolls rising daily, to the medical professions, first responders and task force officers in the fore front risking their lives to save lives and ours-- we then, can ask this simple question:
"Is it too much to ask for you to stay home?"
While there are thousands of unanswered questions that can cross one's thought as we navigate unchartered waters and territories, I see these changes as somewhat inevitable in nature. Although some may disagree to what I just stated whether you are looking at it in a religious, scientific or whatever belief system you may have: nature has its way of cleansing itself-- albeit, I would never promote nor find solace in the idea that death and passing away of thousands of people who suffered from COVID-19 is necessary, at some point, based on scientific studies and historical datas from the past that until we find a "universal vaccine" that will cure any disease (novel or not); our very world will continue to be at risk. The inevitability of new viruses will come and go, while some stay for a longer period of time and with a bigger casualty rate, these viruses will always pose an existential threat to humanity at its best (whether it is our time or the next generations to come). We must take into careful consideration that truly there is a correlation between our health and the ecosystem's well-being per se. A simple yet concrete example is through the health and state of domestic and some exotic animals like different types of birds, bats and pigs that may carry potential virus that can be transmitted to human beings through contact or consumption and thus, can be lethal and deadly just like SARS and the swine flu.
There is an article from MIT Technology Review that was delicately written as if a mirror ball of what could "potentially be" in a drastic manner after COVID-19 and ability to find a solution or lack thereof will definitely be a guiding point of what our inherent future may hold and a new prospective of what "normal and usual" may be defined in terms of way of living. As we grapple in this period of uncertainty, loneliness and worry, there are different ways of looking at our current situation in a positive light because that is the only way of getting through this and coming out stronger and better than ever.
While staying at home, not only I spent hours on reading numerous articles about COVID-19 so I have a material to write and share with all of you (but kidding aside), I also took this time to just really slow down and reassess the things and goals that I have for this year-- both personally and professionally. This is also a great time to bond with your family, especially your partners or children if at times, quality time may be scarce or lacking. Now is also a perfect time to do something simple like finishing your Netflix series or major such as revisiting a passion project you have put on hold because you now have the time to just sit back and relax (after a day's work from home), or just get back on that book that you promised you will finish reading but again-- just did not have the time. Modern times led us to be preoccupied on other things but at this moment, we all have the time in the world and there are no more excuses for it. At the end of the day, there is nowhere else to go anyway and as long as you have your family and loved ones safe and protected, isn't that all that matters?
To end this, I hope that each and everyone has learned something informative and valuable in this little article because I certainly did. I wish for everyone to stay safe, be extra careful and follow precautionary measures at all times. We need to stay optimistic not only for ourselves but for everybody because times like this proved it hard to find toilet papers anywhere and how it is correlated to the pandemic is still gobsmacking to me. But on the serious side of things, let us not forget that even if social distancing meant preventing us to have "physical interactions" does not mean that we cannot stay in touch with our loved ones. A simple hello or checking on people can go a very long way in this times of solitude. This is when one can appreciate the beauty of technology when it comes to entertainment and convenience of communicating in distance. Let us also not forget and pray (if you do) or pause to give respect and thought to those who are ill and suffering (not only the ones with the virus but the ones who have underlying conditions who are more prone to catching the virus) and the ones who have passed away and thank the ones who continue to keep our streets in order, our hospitals in check and control and essential businesses running. Ultimately, our own disposition, sense of togetherness and faith will always be our greatest weapon and saving grace in weathering this storm. As my shirt says- Everything will be alright!
The Parisian Panda
Photo Credits: Lauren Margaret