Feeling Safe (In Unsafe Times)
This week I found myself in an awkward situation.
Some French friends of ours invited us out for dinner. At first I thought it would be an intimate thing, just them and us at an outdoor restaurant down the road, but then I found out a big group of people were going to be there, several families gathered together in one place with kids and parents that I didn’t know. In “normal” times I’d love something like this, jumping at the chance to mingle with a bunch of new French friends, but in today’s climate I found myself hesitating and asking a totally crazy question; “Is it safe?”
UGH! I hate that I even have to think about this, honestly I do, but it’s the reality of the times we live in. And ironically this question is almost more difficult now, six months or so into the pandemic than it ever was before. Mere weeks ago we were totally confined in France, and in some ways life was simple. We knew what we could and couldn’t do, and everyone was on exactly the same page about it. Nobody questioned social distancing, or wearing a mask, and the rules were strict. Stay home except for essential outings. Direct, easy, straight-forward.
Then déconfinement began, the blissful release that everyone had been waiting for, and everything changed. Folks started mingling and going out, and slowly but surely life started getting back to “normal”. Wearing of masks, which was almost universal just a few weeks back, dropped in frequency as people who were tired of the restrictions and discomfort let them go. And family gatherings, which had been completely banned, slowly eased back to where they were before. Everyone was more than happy to forget this crazy time, and this crazy virus. After all, it’s exhausting to have to plan your life around something you can’t even see.
And yet….the virus is still out there….
I know many folks are dead tired of hearing about COVID-19. In truth I am too. There’s been so much news, so many restrictions and it never seems to end. Isn’t it time for all this pallava to be over???? I wish I could say yes, but I simply cannot. Science doesn’t care about feelings, and whatever you may hope the virus is not gone and cannot be dismissed….not yet. This will be our truth for a while longer.
But we also can’t live our lives in hiding and fear, and there’s a real risk of that in these times.
Staying inside is safe, so you start to do that more and more, avoiding all contact with anything and anyone external, becoming introverted and a little mind-dead in the process. It’s not-at-all healthy, and it’s not sustainable. I’ve noticed this tenancy in myself, and in those around me, and it has been weighing increasingly heavily on my mind this week.
So I asked the questions; What IS safe these days? What can we do, with what we know about the virus today? How can we get “back to life” while still mitigating our risks?
If you haven’t guessed it already, my dear blog readers that’s my topic today, and if it’s too heavy for you I totally understand. I’ll be back to more “normal stuff” next week (I promise), so if it’s too much just skip this week, or enjoy the pretty pictures and call it a day. For the folks interested however, those are of you like me, who are truly struggling with this problem right now, I hope today’s post can help. How to navigate this crazy world we live in today….
What Do We Know?
Whenever I look a problem, I always start with the basics. What do we know today?
It’s been over 6 months since COVID-19 came into the world, so far as we know, and our understanding of it has grown significantly, but so have the questions surrounding it.
We do understand a lot more about how it spreads. The most common way is from person to person through respiratory droplets ejected when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Surfaces can also hold the virus for multiple days (depending on the surface), plus it can linger in the air, although neither of these appear to be common infection mechanisms.
The dose makes the poison. If you happen to pick-up a small amount of the virus (e.g. you touch a door handle or walk by somebody infected outside on the street), there’s a good chance your body’s immune system can fight it off. But if you get a higher dose (e.g. you spend 10 minutes talking in close contact with an infected person, or somebody sneezes in your face), you are much more likely to get infected.
People can transmit the virus without knowing. Studies have shown people can be infectious up to 2-3 days before they show symptoms. And some people are super-spreaders, able to transmit large loads of the virus to large numbers of people without personally showing any symptoms at all. This is important.
Masks make a difference. This is something we know now, that was not accredited at all in the beginning by either WHO or CDC. But experiments have now shown that wearing a mask makes a huge difference to droplet transmission (which in turn impacts bacterial & viral respiratory transmission).
There’s a lot more of course, but the basics of all this is that there’s no way to know if someone you meet is infectious, but good air-flow, physical separation, and masks all reduce the risks big-time.
What Don’t We Know
It’s taken us decades to understand viruses like chicken pox, and HIV, so it’s no surprise that we don’t understand COVID-19, which is basically brand spanking new.
Why do some people get really, really sick? We’ve known from the beginning that older, and immune-compromised folks are most at risk. However a percentage of younger, healthy people are also ending up with severe complications, including seemingly unrelated issues such as blood clots, multiple organ failures, brain and neurological problems. We still don’t understand exactly why.
Why do some kids get sick? A percentage of children end up with hyperactive immune response, known as Kawasaki disease. Thankfully it’s generally treatable.
What the long-term effects are. Although the majority of folks recover, there are increasing reports of patients who have relapses or on-going issues long after they come home from the hospital. In truth we don’t know if this virus will have longer-term effects on those who get it.
Whether immunity is long-lasting. We really have no idea if immunity (once you’ve been infected) is either significant or long-lasting. Immunity for other coronaviruses is know to fade over 12 – 52 weeks, so the idea of “I’ve had it, I’m fine” may not apply. Plus viruses mutate, which COVID-19 is already proved to have done. We don’t know what effect that will have on potential immunity either. Literally, we just don’t know.
Exactly what the death-rate is. This a biggie. Worldwide we’ve seen case fatality rates (CFR) anywhere from 0.2% in Germany to 7.7% in Italy. A lot depends on how each country is conducting testing, confirming cases, and counting deaths. For infection fatality rate (IFR), the consensus is currently somewhere around 0.6% (as reference, 0.6 percent of the American population is ~2 million people!), but it’s also an imperfect measure. Truth is, we still don’t know exactly how deadly this is.
How To Properly Treat It. There have been massive strides in treatment, including combos of drugs that improve recovery rates, prone positioning of patients, blood oxygenation techniques, and a better understanding of lab results and what effect ventilators really have on the body (it turns out they may not be the best solution). But there is no sure-fire “cure”, not yet.
As I see it this thing is still dangerous and unknown enough that there is no guarantee you will survive if you get it, no matter your age & health. And hospitals, if they get overwhelmed with enough serious cases, will not be able to cope. The latter was true back in March, and it’s still true now.
External Link (Nature Magazine): Six months of coronavirus: the mysteries scientists are still racing to solve
What That Means In The Day To Day
Obviously the COVID-19 situation is vastly different across the world at the moment. In some countries they’ve managed to flatten the curve and reduce infection rates, but in other countries (sorry USA) infections are currently raging wild. No matter where you live however, I personally believe it’s important to stay on top of the situation in your area, but also to find new ways to navigate your life.
Stay Aware. Track the numbers in your area, especially hospitalization & ICU rates if you can find them (they’re important leading indicators), but try not to become obsessive. The idea is to stay aware, but not be paralyzed by the data.
Get out in ways that are lower risk. We know this thing spreads through droplets from person to person, so there are common-sense ways to mitigate this. Obviously indoor bars are super high-risk (don’t go), whereas hiking in the great outdoors in low-visit areas is pretty darn safe. Similarly dining outdoors on a ventilated terrace is clearly lower-risk than dining indoors in a closed restaurant. Basically unless your job requires you to be in confined quarters close to others, you can manage your risks pretty well by choosing to exercise and spend time in places with better ventilation, and less people.
Wear a darn mask. Wearing a mask when you are around others is an obvious, easy, and extremely low-ask thing to do. This is not a permanent thing and it’s not just for you. It’s for everyone you meet and come into contact with. And it’s science, not politics.
And talk….talk about it….with everyone!
Make An Effort To Talk About It
The other thing we’ve had to learn over the past weeks is how to talk about all this.
You see the problem you’ll find is that not everyone you know will agree on how to manage the risks, now that confinement measures are being eased. Friends may not think the same way that you do about COVID-19, depending on their personal situation. And even within your own family circle you may find yourself at complete odds with your closest about what is OK to do, and what is not. This is especially pertinent right now, with summer starting and people planning vacays and get-togethers around the world.
In our house it turns out (perhaps not surprisingly) that I’m way more cautious than Paul. I personally know people who’ve been severely impacted by the virus (in life-changing ways), so my thinking is that I can’t risk bringing this home to dad at any cost. However Paul rightly points out that we can’t close ourselves off forever, especially now that numbers are under control in France. We simply have to find a balance. So that means we have to talk about it, and discuss A LOT of details:
- What feels safe for you? For me?
- How do we handle going outdoors?
- How do we handle public, and indoor areas?
- How do we handle friends? And socializing?
- How do we handle travel?
These are conversations we’ve never had to have before in our 25 or so years together, and frankly it’s exhausting (and crazy) to have them. But alas it’s necessary in this “new world” we live in.
As an example, before our LMB outing to Carassonne, we tried to go through everything we’d be doing there and talk about how we’d each feel comfortable handling it:
- Staying Overnight? We were both OK with camping in LMB. After all, we’re a the only ones that use our motorhome and we weren’t planning to invite anybody else inside. Plus the campground we were going to had lovely, big sites with lots of separation. A no-brainier decision. RV’s are perfect for isolated travel.
- Public Facilities? What about the campground facilities? Would we use the toilets & showers at the campground? The swimming pool? We had to think about this one. In the end we used the showers, with some precautions (flip flops, washing hands in the RV when we got back), but I had to come around to this one.
- Going Out? How about going out? Were we going to try any restaurants in Carcassonne? If so, what kind of set-up should the restaurant have for us to feel comfortable (e.g. servers wearing masks? outdoor seating? good table separation?)? We didn’t eat out in the end, but we were ready for it.
- Crowds? What was our plan if we encountered crowds (turn around? wear a mask and keep going?)? In the end we avoided them, simply by choosing to sightsee early in the morning when (happily) no-one else was around.
- Everyday Habits? What habits should we agree to adopt no matter what? For example, wearing a mask outside (duh!), washing our hands every time we come back to the RV (double duh!) etc. But what about our clothes? Were we going to be OK re-using them several days in a row, or should we take a change of clothing for each day? Since we planned to avoid crowds and stay outside, we agreed re-using clothes was OK.
We’ve had to do the same at home.
The virus situation in France is stable right now (which is great), so it makes total sense for us to get out and push our boundaries again, both for our health & sanity. But IMO we still need to do it in a sensible way. So wearing masks in public areas and avoiding big crowds is a given, but socializing is a new challenge (perhaps outdoors? in select smaller circles to begin with?), and eating out at restaurants too (outdoor seating, obviously). Plus we’re all trying to make an extra effort to go out on more regular hikes & sightseeing outings in the area. After all we live in a really low-population area with tons of natural beauty. We should take advantage of that.
So That’s Our Current “New Normal”
Life in the age of coronavirus, avoiding a threat you can’t touch or see. It’s not-at-all normal and hard to fully grasp, but it’s what it is.
We are taking it day by day thing, and trying to keep communication open, and our lives going. Paul has learned to check in with me more often & ask if I’m OK and feel safe whenever we do an activity outside, while I’m trying to learn how to be less anxious and voice concerns for discussion before the issues come up. It’s not anything close to regular life, but it’s helped us work through this very unusual and crazy time.
I’m really hoping all this comes to a close sometime in the near future especially as better treatments are developed (and eventually a vaccine). But I also know this is a process, and we cannot ignore the risks we face right now.
Oh, and that group dinner with friends? We decided not to go. I think Paul was ready, but I’m not…at least not yet.
So that’s it my dear readers. I apologize for the dark post, but it’s whats been on my mind and I felt I needed to share. If you’ve read this far, and you’ve grappled with these questions yourself I’d love to hear how you resolved them…both for yourself and those around you. Or perhaps you’re not worried anymore (and feel I shouldn’t be either)? Either way, I’d love to hear it. DO comment below and share with all!