My life seems to have gone from traveling at a hundred miles per hour to a complete standstill, and this leaves a lot of time for reflection. Time for reflection can also be time for ruminating, which is not great for those of us who are anxiety-prone. That said, I haven’t really felt incredibly anxious—worried, yes, but not anxious. I’ve done everything I can do to assert some measure of control over the situation, and now, I feel, it’s out of my hands.
I’m about to be a real public health professional, but I don’t want to make any statements or conjectures about the pandemic. There’s a lot of misinformation out there—some of which is coming directly from our government. I take most things with a grain of salt. (Unless it comes directly from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is walking the delicate line of being both diplomatic and pragmatic in order to maintain his position as an advisor to the administration while still disseminating actual facts and recommendations.)
So, rather than add my opinions to the cacophony of voices, I’ve just made a few lists to share.
Here’s what I am worried about (not an exhaustive list):
• The elderly and the immunocompromised
• The low supply of medical equipment and PPE (for my MBAs, this is personal protective equipment, not property, plant and equipment)
• The front-line service workers who have to encounter a large amount of other humans every day
• Small local businesses
• People who have been laid off or furloughed
• People taking medical advice from Trump
• People who need to go to the doctor or emergency room for a reason other than COVID-19 (note that I said need)
• My family’s health
• My friends’ health
• My friends’ families’ health
• The government failing to take the appropriate measures to contain this thing
• My dad forgetting I have meetings and classes and walking past my live camera in his boxers
Here’s what I’m not worried about:
• Toilet paper (???!??!?!) (though get back to me in a few weeks on this)
• Martial law??? (you will not believe the number of people who have mentioned it)
• My graduations being postponed (in the long run, not a big deal. Already did the whole college thing—I am bummed for undergrads)
• Every single cough I hear
• The cough I have
• “The Chinese virus”
• Running out of things to read or watch
• Pants. Or makeup. Or my hair.
• Online classes. Professors are doing the best they can. Let’s give them some credit for turning this around on a dime and working through a medium they’re not used to.
Here’s how I’m staying sane(ish) and healthy:
• Getting outside (running, walking, playing with my dog). Yes, there’s pollen out there, but as a reminder, sneezing is not a symptom of COVID-19. It’s just a sign that it’s spring, and that your body hates you and hates fun.
• Cuddling my dog
• FaceTiming friends
• Checking in with folks I haven’t caught up with in a while
• Eating a lot of vegetables
• Trying to not check Instagram or Facebook too often, because bored people are getting OUT OF CONTROL. (I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ANOTHER PICTURE OF YOU FACETIMING YOUR FRIENDS. I JUST DON’T. WE’RE ALL DOING IT. I GET IT.)
• Sleeping a normal amount, but also getting up at a regular time every day
• Working really hard to not think about what I’m missing out on. I can’t always do it, but to me, there is absolutely no point in thinking about the “what ifs”. I’m here now and I’m going to make the best of it.
Now, here’s what I’m really worried about:
Our healthcare workers. Every level of healthcare worker is facing this pandemic daily. EMTs, paramedics, nurses, physicians’ assistants, doctors, chaplains, environmental services, administrators—an enormous amount of human capital is going into fighting COVID-19 and keeping people alive. Some hospitals have limited workers to one mask per day, and that could even go to one mask per week. Healthcare workers have to wake up every day and go to work, knowing that they could contract this disease, that they could pass it on to their loved ones, that they could even pass it to their patients. They’re having to separate children from parents and spouses from their partners to keep them safe. And there is likely a day (probably sooner rather than later) where our healthcare providers will have to make decisions about who gets treatment, and who does not.
This kind of sustained stress is trauma. I’m not just worried about these individuals’ physical health, I’m worried about their mental health. I’m worried about burnout. I’m worried about PTSD. I’m worried that these people are carrying a weight on their shoulders that will eventually crush them. And I’m worried that we as a populace are not doing enough to support them, to appreciate them, to help them defend us against this threat.
You may think there’s not much you can do to help. But there are a few things:
• If you hoarded masks, you can donate them to your local hospital. (Staying home is what will keep you healthy.)
• If you can sew, you can make masks out of fabric (from your home) and donate these.
• If you’re Elon Musk, you can make ventilators (?)
• If you can breathe and blink and form thoughts, STAY HOME.
Here’s the thing. If you came into contact with someone who has the virus—even if they’re asymptomatic–you could have it, and you could be passing it along to others. That quick trip to the grocery store to grab more toilet paper? You could give it to the checkout assistant, who will still come to work for several days, giving it to more people. That trip to the bar to meet a few friends? You could give it to them, or the bartender, or other patrons, just by touching door handles. And each person you give it to is at risk for hospitalization, which means they’ll land on our healthcare workers’ doorstep and keep adding to our stressed-out system.
We don’t have enough tests. We know this. So here’s what I ask:
Please stay home. Don’t wait for symptoms. Don’t wait for someone you’ve come into contact with to be diagnosed, because that diagnosis may not come.
Don’t insist on living your life as normal. This isn’t a normal time.
This, too, shall pass. There will be time to go back to doing the things you love. But don’t do them now, because it could cost you the people that you love. And if someone you love does get sick, there will be heroes trying to save them, at great risk to themselves. For the most part, we might be able to get back to normal. But our healthcare workers may be forever changed.
So do your part. Suit up (in your sweatpants) and get ready for battle (on your couch). You are essential. And you can help.