America Missed The Boat on Coronavirus Mitigation – So What’s Plan B?

 

As an immunocompromised person and someone who paid close attention to the COVID-19 disaster that unfolded in Italy, I was very vocal back in early March that the United States needed to SHUT IT ALL DOWN.

After all, when New Zealand took decisive and united action in closing down the nation, they were able to essentially eradicate the virus in less than two months. As of this week, children are playing mask-free on playgrounds and patrons are shopping and dining with relatively minimal protocols in place.

We are not New Zealand. To be clear, there is argument to be made whether our states could even be considered “united” anymore. And the federal response to this pandemic can best be compared to pushing a turd around a swimming pool.

Yes, to some degree, we have slowed the spread. At least for now, and at least in some places. We allowed our overburdened healthcare system more time to secure PPE, ventilators, and space. But did we use it wisely? The response was anything but unified, and, for the most part, too little, too late.

Doctors and nurses across the country report still only getting one mask and gown per day (or less) and being forced to take drastic and unsafe measures to feel safe with limited resources.

We were also meant to spend this time in relative isolation developing better and more available testing and a contact-tracing protocol. After more than two months, tests are finally becoming more accessible, but we still have no proper contact tracing protocol and we are miles away from where we need to be. And yet, states, counties, and businesses across America defiantly open up and draw crowds of unmasked people who are willing to take their chances – and put other folks at risk.

Our president won’t wear a mask or properly social distance, so his followers emulate his lead. A growing loud contingent of anti-vaccination activists merged their voices with other “freedom at all cost” crowds and filled both social media and the state capitols with misinformation and conspiracy theories, putting everyone at risk with their actions.

While the folks brandishing guns at the state capitol and getting into physical altercations over wearing a mask at Trader Joe’s are never going to have my sympathy, there is plenty to account for misinformation, confusion, and outrage.

While the president may say that a vaccine in the next nine months is imminent, most scientists disagree. We don’t know whether they will be free, accessible, or even widely accepted by the general public. And if the vaccine does not work for immunocompromised people like myself who tend to not make those types of antibodies, it could be a while before herd immunity helps me.

There is also a call by some to simply return to normal life and let the virus take its course, killing off a percentage of the population while letting the rest build herd immunity. It’s similar to the approach Sweden took. But even without factoring in the lost lives, we have no idea if herd immunity will even WORK for this virus. There has been no evidence that people who have had the virus are protected from further infection. There’s also significant talk of viral mutations to be accounted for. It’s why we are never 100% protected against every strain of influenza.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

Since we now exist in a piecemeal patchwork of rules, regulations, unconfirmed ideas, and complete uncertainty, how are we supposed to live our lives?

This is something no one can really agree on. But there has to be a commonsense approach. Right now, part of the population is too scared to get the mail and another part of the population is packing into bars and restaurants. In the long term, neither is going to work.

Without critical direction from our elected officials or international knowledge on how this virus even works, we are essentially left to fend for ourselves the best we can.

As this Atlantic article states, “If we knew that a broadly effective COVID-19 treatment was imminent, or that a working vaccine was months away, minimizing infections through social distancing until that moment would be the right course. At the other extreme, if we will never have an effective treatment or vaccine and most everyone will get infected eventually, then the costs of social distancing are untenable. We don’t know where we sit on that spectrum. So we cannot know what the best way forward is even if we place the highest possible value on preserving life and protecting the vulnerable.”

I am not a doctor, an epidemiologist, or a scientist.

But as a person who is literally just trying to live, here is the way I am operating.

  • Outside is better than inside. If you want to workout, have a small gathering with friends and family, or shop in a plant market, wait for nice weather and do it outdoors. If you live in a dense urban area like me, this is harder. But it’s still possible. We have taken to distantly hanging out with friends in cemeteries. You can find space just about anywhere if you get creative.

 

  • Wear a freaking mask. It sucks, yes. They are annoying and sweaty and no one can see you smile. But this won’t last forever and really, you can get used to anything. How many of you got used to the discomfort of walking around nine months pregnant? Of managing a chronic illness, disability, or ailment? The pain of losing a loved one? We can handle masks and we don’t have to wear them everywhere (i.e. at home, hiking in the middle of nowhere, generally far from people you aren’t socially-bonded to.

 

  • Why did I say socially-bonded and not “same household?” Because the nuclear family structure we have been mandated to uphold literally does not work for everyone. Blended families still have to navigate shared custody. Family members and friends who do not live with us may be tasked with childcare when the parents are essential workers. Adults who do not live with romantic or sexual partners are eventually going to need to have sex or just touch. And we cannot expect people who live alone – or with a random roommate – to stay isolated forever.Even though I am fortunate enough to live with my husband and two children, after 60+ days of isolation with no end in sight, we have made accommodations that feel right for our family. We have one other family that we spend time with that is not socially-distanced. It allows a much-needed change of scenery (city versus burbs), physical playmates for our children, and other adults to have our backs if we need them. For instance, have you considered what you would do if the adults in your house became ill and you couldn’t care for your children? Who would take them? Grandparents are often the go-to in these cases, but they are also among the most vulnerable. None of us are currently working outside the home, we take the same level of precautions when doing essential errands, and stay transparent about where we go and who we see.

 

  • I don’t go indoors anywhere I don’t have to. We are VERY lucky to have a weekly FreshDirect delivery slot – as we were already weekly users to avoid driving and parking– and live in a city where take-out and delivery services are abundant. We know that having items delivered comes from a place of privilege and presents its own ethical quandry. But overall, we’ve decided it only adds to the problem if we become additional bodies in the grocery store and also want gig workers to continue to receive income. We try to support our local restaurants and businesses by ordering from our local CSA and butchers. We’ve managed to cut and dye our own hair. We don’t care about our nails. And if something breaks, we try to repair it ourselves or see if it is something that can wait. That said, there are places we are going to have to start going. I am overdue for essential bloodwork. I know I need a stronger contact lens prescription. My son has had a chipped front tooth for three months. And many remote workers are going to be asked to return to their offices at some point. We will proceed as carefully and cautiously as possible, trusting in our community to do the same.

 

  • Try to stay healthy but don’t beat yourself up. Fresh food, vitamins, sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are all good for our immune systems. But don’t fall into the rabbit hole of folks who are extra about it. It’s HARD right now. We are all short on money, convenience, space, access, and ability. If you are able to walk, run, do yoga, meditate, or lift weights, I highly recommend it. If you are able to find fresh organic fruit and vegetables, it’s always great to nourish your body with good nutrition. But for f%^k’s sake, if all you are doing right now is eating Mallowmars in the bathtub I will not shame you. If your kids only eat what they can grab out of the snack cupboard while you are on work calls, FINE. My personal fight for better access and affordability of clean food has been trumped right now by the fight to stay the hell alive in a pandemic.

 

  • Consider blocking assholes on social media. Social media can be an amazing tool for connection, especially in times like these. Friends and acquaintances offer emotional support and everything from advice on filing for unemployment benefits, tips on where to find flour, and no-contact exchanges of much-needed items. But this pandemic has also brought out the worst in people. Self-proclaimed “truth seekers” think they know better than the CDC. Your cousin is convinced COVID is spread by 5G internet waves and all a plot by Bill Gates and the Illuminati. Yes, there have been articles that show rationally arguing with others on social media, and providing facts may help sway their opinions. But if someone is a flat-earther, you are wasting your time and compromising your mental health. Block them.

 

  • VOTE. Request your mail-in ballot if your primary is still ahead. Contribute to progressive campaigns. Make sure your friends and family are registered to vote. That is the only way to make sure our society is better equipped to handle catastrophe. Otherwise, we will continue to be led by Satan and Satan’s turtle who are spending all their time tweeting about imaginary “Obamagate” and rapidly confirming conservative 12-year-old judges.

 

What Should the Politicians Be Doing?

I am a vocal liberal Democrat, however, I do not believe either party is infallible and will speak out based on what I believe is right at the time based on growing bodies of information.

When folks speak out about wanting to be able to safely run their small businesses when there are people packed into big box stores, I can see their point. If barbers and beauticians are running underground salons in their basements, I would much rather see them opened and properly regulated. It’s like abstinence-only sex education – folks aren’t going to listen so let’s at least give them protection.

Since states, cities, and counties are not islands, we need to all get on the same page. I think at this point, since clearly a half-ass quarantine isn’t cutting it anymore, we should allow small businesses to open with strict safety protocols enforced by health departments. People need jobs. Let’s hire them to manage health violations and do contact tracing. I’m not rushing out to get a haircut or try on clothes. But we are about five minutes away from a complete f%^king uprising so something’s gotta give.

Further, we need to start using statistics that make sense, and I believe those should focus more on current hospitalizations. When we look at the current COVID infection rate, we are relying on spotty testing and should only expect the numbers to grow as we begin testing more broadly. When we talk about daily death count, we have to consider the ways in which deaths are reported which is also somewhat inconsistent and doesn’t always paint a true picture of the current crisis level. Looking at COVID-based hospitalizations shows a clearer picture of where we are seeing the most serious spikes in critical illness as well as where are healthcare systems may be overwhelmed.

If you made it this far, I have just provided you with 2100 words of opinion I aim to be guided by facts and some understanding of basic human nature. I’m just one person trying to get by, keep my loved ones safe, and desperately wishing the people in power were smarter than me and you. But since our president is a toilet monster and the Senate is run by a reptilian demon, we are all essentially called upon to wing it.

Your response is not going to mirror mine but at the very least I hope we can all try not to spit on each other in cheese stores and attack each other over a Red Lobster dinner. At the moment, my faith is pretty shaken. Please prove me wrong.


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