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March 13, 2020

F*ck the two-party system. It’s time to care about People as People.

One of my favorite and most frequent mantras:

The opposite of crazy is still crazy.

Coronavirus.

We’ve all heard the hears, seen the sees, read the posts. Cousin Shirley thinks that everybody who worries about Coronavirus risk is a survivalist worry wart. Uncle Stu, on the other hand, bought out the baked beans and toilet paper isles for obvious correlational reasons. Of course people, and social media posts, are trending toward both of these extreme categories.

After all, isn’t that how we in America are trained?

Here’s an important consideration- Coronavirus doesn’t care about a two-party system. Viruses don’t care who is running for president, or which party “believes” in their campaign. They simply exist, and it’s up to us to interpret patterns and data.

The data points to the fact that this virus, similar to the flu virus, is highly contagious. Also, similar to the flu virus, people most at risk of significant complications from the virus seem to be the elderly or immune compromised- such as people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or people who have had an organ transplant and are on immune lowering medications, among several others.

Dissimilar to the flu virus, we have no vaccine. So- in that regard- our only defense as a population right now, to protect the most vulnerable, is to protect ourselves, so that one less person exists to promote the virus’s spread. Source control.

This does not mean panic.

Today at the grocery store, the situation was tense. About 10% of people were wearing surgical masks and gloves. Another 10% were verbally accosting those people- telling them that their protective wear was “stealing from those healthcare workers who need to use them.” People were competing for everything- food on shelves, toilet paper, parking spots, and check-out lines. Nobody made eye contact. The situation didn’t feel human.

It also doesn’t mean disregard.

Then there’s the other end of the dichotomy- those who have decided that the coronavirus is a sensationalist ploy to manipulate an election, sell products, and click-bait America into mass hysteria. Well, the opposite of panic- complete disregard- is honestly no better. I am not a doctor, but I can assure you that the rest of the world is not “in on the scheme” to manipulate our election with fake news. Italy and China have been shouting to the world, praying that it [we] will listen:

Make a plan now, to protect your most vulnerable. We planned too late, and we could not care for the numbers.

So, here’s the question- how do we hold space to give this virus the seriousness and respect it deserves, but also stay out of the temptation to go rogue, “every man for himself?”

Keep calm, and protect the most vulnerable.

Ways to protect our most vulnerable:

  • Bunker down. Stay home when possible. Cancel the plans, read the books, write the articles. Even if you are young and unafraid, the more the virus spreads, the more it is likely to reach people who are not as young- not as unafraid.
  • Equip the at-risk. For those of us who are young and healthy: don’t just stock up for yourself and then hibernate. Offer to brave the crowds and get groceries for neighbors, family, and friends who are considered part of the “vulnerable population.” Consistency is key, as the course of this thing is looking like it may be more of a marathon than a sprint. Commit to a once-weekly “errand day” for somebody in your community, where you can get their groceries and allow them to stay home.
  • Stop the spread of shaming-type articles. Shaming-type articles and memes are those circulating social media which cast shame on anybody taking the virus seriously. The virus is serious. There is space for non-panic, and also mature acknowledgement.
  • Wash hands and avoiding touching our faces. For caregivers, wash hands before providing care- before making food, pouring drink, or giving hugs.
  • Eat at home. Restaurant workers assemble food in an assembly-chain type fashion. This means that food prepared in a restaurant has something like 5-6x more human contact than the meals you make for yourself at home. Cook as much as you can. Short on time? Whole, simple foods are healthier, anyway. Know somebody who isn’t able to cook for themselves? Offer to cook for them. Be diligent when doing so. One mindful person cooking for them is so much better than five assembly line individuals at the restaurant.
  • Support local small businesses by purchasing a gift card. This provides them with immediate revenue- which they need to stay open- while maintaining social distancing.
  • Honor cancelled appointments. Right now, people have the right to cancel and stay home. As a society, we need to support this attitude- not cast shame.
  • Check in on each other. Social distancing is such a cold term that infers isolationism. The goal is to prevent spread of disease- not to feel isolated. Call, FaceTime, send a card- a sense of community is good for body and soul (Really! People who report strong social support networks tend to have improved health outcomes from those reporting poor social support).

My husband, a hospital medicine physician on the front lines, wrote and shared the following today via Facebook. I’ve edited a bit just to shorten for the sake of this article:

I am a physician. I am also a scientist by training (cell and molecular biology). Data, numbers, science and scientific method, epidemiology, human physiology, socio-economic standards, transportation, world health. These are some of the factors one should be focused on when analyzing COVID-19 virus. Not politics, at all. One needs to limit innate (often unknown or unaware) psychological barriers or inadvertent falsifications.

Educate yourself, or stay quiet and let the educated take care of you.

When the World Health Organization declares a disease as a world pandemic, you should take it seriously. Epidemiology is a science.

In two years you will probably look back and think, “Oh yeah, some people bought some toilet paper. See? Told you it wouldn’t be a big deal,” if you are so lucky, and you almost certainly will be. However, millions world wide who have died and will die will not be so lucky.

Limit your (future) hindsight bias and our group cascade bias along with several other key heuristics and live in the real world. Not a self feeding, possibly more dangerous than the virus itself, click-bait digital playground that, in some aspects, brings out the worst in us- making us more racist, inappropriately biased, and to put it bluntly, less intelligent. 

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and if you are feeling sick with flu like symptoms do not go to the ER unless you are feeling really really sick and can’t breath. Then go.”

Time to take care of one another.

We are capable of maintaining our calm and also taking responsible actions. Republican party, Democratic party, Independent party- everybody is invited to this party.

Except stay home.

 

Let’s go.

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