I don’t usually write about anything serious here on ye ole blog, but omg, the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. SARS, H1N1 – they were nothing like the level of response and the level of people’s attention that’s happening with COVID-19. It’s all anyone is talking about – among friends, in the office, and the news on it is changing so rapidly that it makes your head spin.
Every time you turn around, there’s a new major development. The NBA has suspended its season. The NHL soon followed suit. Universities are telling their students to pack up and leave. Large gatherings of people are cancelled and recommendations are made to not travel outside of Canada. The Prime Minister’s wife tests positive for novel coronavirus. Cities under lockdown. Countries under lockdown.
My friend Cath and I were supposed to go to a show tonight. In the early afternoon a tweet said the show was a go. A few hours later, the recommendation was made by the provincial health officer that gatherings of more than 250 people or more should be cancelled, and so it was cancelled.
I’ve legit started doing the elbow bump with people in the place of handshakes. Like, two days ago I had two meetings in a row where me and the other person instinctively stuck out our hands to do a handshake and then, half way to the shake, we both froze and said “oh, we better not”. Today I had a meeting and me and the other person both looked at each other and said “Elbow bump?” and then we did it. Later another colleague told me some tough news and I said “Can I give you a hug?” and they said, “I still have a bit of a sore throat and I don’t want to pass it to you.” So we did an elbow bump. When Cath and I met up, we did an elbow bump and then the waitress complemented us on our elbow bumping, so we gave her elbow bumps too. Life is really weird in 2020.
I know this blog posting is really scattered, but I feel like the whole world is a mixed up, topsy turvy, scattered mess right now, and all I can think to do is getting my scattered thoughts out onto the page.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I think the best thing we can right now is listen to the experts. There are public health professionals whose job is to know how to respond to things like pandemics. They are experts on the science of tracking diseases and responding to the emerging situation in a way that gives us the best chance to protect the population. Want information on the pandemic and what to do about? Go to trustworthy sources, like the BCCDC and the WHO. Don’t believe random stuff you see posted on Facebook and Twitter. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and there are lots of unethical people who are trying to profit off of people’s fears. Listen to the experts.
Which reminds me – I saw this on Twitter the other day and thought it was pretty great:
Also pretty great is Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s provincial health officer. She keeps the public informed with facts in a rational, calm, and human way, which is pretty freaking amazing when you consider that this situation is rapidly evolving, so there is a constant need to respond to new and unexpected things. So co-wrote Canada’s Pandemic Plan and has been on the front line fighting H1N1, SARS, and Ebola and honestly, BC is really luck to have her leading us in this really difficult time.
While Googling Dr. Henry just now to add a link to the paragraph above, I learned that she wrote a book all “Soap and Water and Common Sense.” Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about in the past few weeks as people have been arguing about whether we are overreacting to COVID-19. The main messages we’ve been getting from the very beginning is wash your hands properly, cough/sneeze into your arm, and stay home if you are sick. This is something that public health professionals have been saying for years! Even if the COVID-19 pandemic had not happened, we all should be washing our hands properly, coughing/sneezing into our arms, and staying home when we are sick. It helps prevents colds and flus and other random pathogens from being passed around.
I’ve been working in the healthcare sector for over a decade – and I spent five of those years working in Public Health specifically. So perhaps I’ve lived in a bit of a hand hygiene bubble, where my office spaces have always been replete with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. And where how to properly wash your hands is actually training that we get.
I’ve also seen first hand the incredible and tireless work of epidemiologists and public health nurses and medical health officers and a whole host of others during an outbreak, though what I saw was on a vastly smaller scale than this. I can’t even imagine the amount of effort and the toll it takes on public health professionals all around the world dealing with this crisis.
And then there are those who work in long-term care facilities and in acute care. Long-term care facilities are seeing outbreaks among the people most vulnerable to the virus. These facilities are often understaffed to begin with, but now we are talking about having even less staff – with some staff being quarantined – and having to care for sick and vulnerable people. I can’t imagine how hard it is. Acute care also faces hardship, especially in places where there are large numbers of cases. In Italy they literally do not have enough ICU beds and ventilators to treat everyone who needs intensive care, so healthcare staff have to choose which patients get treatment and which are left to die. Imagine having to make that decision.
Healthcare professionals are goddamn heroes.
There’s a been a lot of talk (at least among the nerdy science bubble in which I live) about “flattening the curve”. The idea here is to follow public health recommendations (like social distancing and hand hygiene), while public health does their critical work of tracing contacts and tracking the disease and all the other countless things they have been doing since this crisis started, to prevent everyone from overwhelming the acute care system all at the same time. If we spread it out over a longer time, we don’t end up in the situation where those working in the acute care system have to pick who gets to live and who has to die, like is happening in Italy.
To do this, we need adequate resources in public health, and in acute care, and we all need to listen to the advice of the public health experts.
Of course, following the advice of the experts is easier for some people than others. Like pretty much everything, the most vulnerable in society are the ones who are hardest hit by this. They are also the ones who are least likely to be able to follow the advice. For example:
- Stay home when you are sick. But how do you do that if you don’t have paid sick leave and you can lose your job if you call in sick? And you live paycheque to paycheque, so losing your job means you can’t pay your rent or buy food or buy medicine?
- Work from home to avoid crowds. That’s fine for many tech workers and office workers who can do that. But what about people whose job physically can’t be done from home? Anyone in the service industry can’t just work from home, for example.
- Avoid public transit, especially during rush hour, to avoid crowds. Easy enough for someone who has a car that they can drive instead. What about people who are dependent on transit? And those people who can’t work from home, who have to physically be at their jobs to perform them – they probably also can’t just shift their work hours to avoid rush hour.
- If you have COVID-19 but don’t need to be hospitalized, isolate at home, in a room with no one else. What if you don’t have a home? What if you have a home but it’s not a safe place to be, due to domestic violence or inadequate housing? Where do you go? What if you live with multiple people in an SRO?
I’m not bringing this stuff up to criticize these recommendations – they are evidence-based, they will help flatten the curve and I think that people who can do these things should do these things. I’m more bringing them up to criticize the system in which we live – a system that is set up so that so many members of our community don’t have adequate housing, don’t have access to sick leave, don’t have the ability to save up money to see them through hard times, that live paycheque to paycheque and are just one small incident away from losing a precarious job or home.
Again, apologies that this is super scattered. I needed to dump all these swirling thoughts out of my brain. And apologies that I didn’t actually proofread this either, so there’s probably eleventy thousand typos. I’m too tired to even proofread!