Folks, it's GO time. To all of you who understand just how serious this pandemic is, and are taking steps to slow and stop its spread by staying home, and practicing social distancing, THANK YOU!
For all you who understand the seriousness of the pandemic, while still being aggravated about losing work, missing out on business, not having child care or any social interaction – in short, losing all normality: THANK YOU! You understand that these steps, hard as they are, are necessary and will be better for us in the long run.
For those of you who don't think COVID-19 is serious, or don't understand, or are angry with the steps we are taking, please think about the following, based on what we know now.
COVID-19 Facts You Should Know
COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease with a high death (mortality) rate. That means it spreads easily and fast, which means a lot of people will get it. A high death rate means more people die from it.
Let's look at another infectious disease that some compare to COVID-19: Flu (also known as influenza). True, flu is an infectious disease that kills people. However, at present known rates, a person with COVID-19 infects twice as many people as a person with flu. And conservative estimates of the death rate of COVID-19 compared to the death rate of flu, mean that COVID-19 will kill 10 times the number of people that flu does.
What's really scary is that a lot of people don't know, or show, that they have COVID-19 because they are "asymptomatic." So you can infect others, without ever even knowing you are a carrier – or that you even have it.
There is no known treatment or cure at this time. Researchers are working on medicines, treatments, vaccines and more, as we speak. But at this point, there is not much we can do to combat it - unlike flu, where we have treatments and a vaccine to prevent it.
We do not have enough medical personnel, or ways to protect them, including face masks, gloves, gowns, etc. The sheer numbers of people getting this disease means that our medical personnel are overwhelmed. Our Louisiana medical providers have already stopped routine medical appointments, and we know many places have had to resort to delaying or, even stopping, urgent care, with heart attack victims waiting to be seen, and cancer patients having to put off life-saving treatments. Do you want this to happen to you or someone you love?
Understand too, that when a medical provider gets sick, which is more likely because they don't have PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), the less likely that you, or someone you love, will get the care they need if, and when, that time comes.
We do not have enough respirators and hospital beds. In other countries, doctors have already had to make decisions about who gets a bed and who ends up sleeping in a tent or a hallway. In Italy, doctors have had to make decisions about who gets a life-saving respirator and who doesn't - and that's in a country that has one of the better public health systems in the world, has more hospital beds than we do, and whose citizens are healthier than us here in Louisiana.
People in Louisiana are going to get and die from COVID-19 more than others. Yes, most people who get COVID-19 will recover just fine. The same is true of flu. But while 1 to 2 people out of 100 people with flu will have to be hospitalized; at present, 10 to 20 people out of 100 with COVID-19 will have to be hospitalized. And, as noted earlier, those with COVID-19 will die at at least 10 times the rate than those with flu.
And those rates are based on people who are healthier than we are in Louisiana. Already the data is showing that we have a higher mortality rate. That is because we are almost last (49th) in the nation when it comes to health. We have higher rates of people with heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, diabetes and more, which puts people at higher risk for COVID-19. And we have higher rates of smoking and obesity, the biggest causes of illnesses, and both of which put people at higher risk for COVID-19. If you saw 60 Minutes (March 29 edition) or read recent news reports, doctors are saying obese people are having more issues with the disease. Our higher risk makes it even more important for people in Louisiana to stay at home and practice social distancing!
Until we have enough tests for widespread testing, don't bother, unless you are having severe symptoms or are considered essential personnel. When there are only a limited number of tests, it should be done:
- Early to identify, isolate, and quarantine those with the disease to stop its spread. That window has already closed. Therefore, we are now using tests to:
- To identify the right treatment for the seriously ill, so that we don't treat someone for a disease they don't have; and to identify first responders (doctors, nurses, police officers, etc.) and other essential people with the disease. Since they need to be in touch with others, we need to make sure they don't have the disease themselves.
If you're trying to get the test without having a good reason to do so (such has having severe symptoms or being a first responder), please wait until widespread testing is available. When that happens, we will all be tested to get the true figure for who/where still needs to be quarantined and who/where doesn't. And, if you get a test now, and it says you're negative for the disease, it probably doesn't matter. A day later, you could run into a friend who is asymptomatic and it spreads to you anyway. Until we know exactly what the situation is for all of us, it doesn't really help any of us. As the saying goes, "No man is an island."
How To Fight COVID-19 Now
- Stay home
- Social distance
If you are not on the front lines (and that's most of us), these are the two best weapons we have to fight COVID-19 now. So do it! By doing so, we can help stop the spread and "flatten the curve," giving our medical providers and facilities a fighting chance to save more lives. And just think about other things we have asked Americans to do in the past: go to war, ration goods and more - staying home and social distancing is not that hard in comparison! So, if you love your country and consider yourself a patriot, you'll stay home and social distance. If you consider yourself a Christian or a moral person, you'll stay home and social distance. If you consider yourself an intelligent person, who understands what the data, science and credible experts are all telling us, you'll stay home and social distance.
What To Do While You're Home
Wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, paying attention to all parts of your hand, including the fingertips, palm and back of hand. If you must use hand sanitizer, make sure it is at least 60% alcohol.
Wash/sanitize frequently used surfaces often. These include doorknobs, light switches, handles, countertops, toilets, sinks and electronics (which may require special cleaning instructions.) To learn more, go to this guide from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Create and/or stick to a routine. All the physical and mental health experts are stressing how important it is to have a routine now – especially if you are dealing with children. Routines give us a sense of normalcy, helps us meet goals and expectations, lets others know what is expected (e.g. "No, you know homework time is 3-4:30 pm, and, yes, your bedtime is still 8:30 pm!) and help our brains deal with stress. Research shows that people who are stressed are less likely to make wise decisions. If we stick to a routine, then we're less likely to stay up until 2 am binging on Netflix or comfort-shopping on Amazon.
Start a healthy new habit, or stop an unhealthy one, and make that part of your routine. A lot of what we do, good or bad, is usually part of a habit. Now that our lives have been disrupted and most of us need to start a new routine, it's the ideal time to adopt a healthier habit or end a bad one. People who sell products know that the best way to get someone to do something is for them to make it a habit, like "Wash. Rinse. Repeat." Or "I only buy Crest toothpaste." Or "I eat red beans and rice every Monday."
Knowing that, I'm doing it myself. As one of those people who could always lose a few pounds (especially lately), last week, I decided to make lunch, my "big meal of the day", and eat only a light dinner within a six-hour timeframe. And guess what? It's working – I've lost a few pounds and I've gotten to the point where I don't even want dinner sometimes (and that's with eating an éclair one day too). CHA-CHING! So pick something that is an easy substitute, or easy to do, or that rewards you in some way so that you keep doing it! I've also got three suggestions for you:
- Instead of smoking, reach out to 1-800-QUIT-NOW! It's the Louisiana Tobacco Quitline and people are there 24 hours a day to help you quit with free counseling, self-help guides and tools, and more. Remember smoking (and we're talking vaping too) puts you at more risk for a number of diseases, including COVID-19. So a great time to quit, don't you think?!?!
- Substitute that sugary drink (the biggest culprit in being overweight and obese) with water. Water is cheap, easy to get, and healthy – just the opposite of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks and fruit juices. Not only that, research shows that when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, it does not satisfy hunger, so you eat just as much (or even more), so those sugar-sweetened beverages just pile empty calories on top of your food calories!
- Move more! If you're home, now's the perfect time to break up your day by taking a walk, riding your bike, whatever gets you moving. Maybe do it to start and/or end your day – and make it a habit! (See what I'm doing here?)
Be good to yourself and those around you. We're all stressed. So be good to yourself. If you need to, retreat to a quiet room, cry, read a trashy novel, watch a rerun of the Saints Super Bowl win – whatever! And don't be afraid to reach out for help! The same goes for your loved ones. Give them space, time and resources to help them deal with what is going on around them. And if you are overwhelmed, a good place to look for help is 211, which is run by the Louisiana Dept. of Health. The people at 211 can link people to basic needs (food, shelter, etc.); physical and mental resources (crisis intervention, support groups, counseling, health insurance, etc.; employment support; and resources for special groups like children, people with disabilities, the elderly and more. To reach 211:
Connect! We are social animals, people. We need to connect in order to survive. Researchers have been realizing over the last few years that loneliness is an actual health risk – even a deadly one. So check in regularly with the people you care about – call, meet them online via any number of programs and apps. Forbes just did a round-up of free software, plus there are apps to help you too. My friends and I met up on one called recently, as well as downloaded the Netflix Party to simultaneously watch a show and comment on it. (In response to something in the show, my friend wrote "Did I ever tell you guys about the two years I spent in Grady Country Jail?" And points to you if you know what show I'm talking about.)
And take the time to get to know others. Don't get within six feet, but talk to those people sitting on their porch. Get on Nextdoor and find out what's going on with your neighbors. See if an elderly person in your neighborhood needs help. A friend of mine in St. Bernard Parish has taken to cooking for her older neighbors. Hard times bring out both the best and worst in people, with, sadly, history telling us that it is often the worst, with many people, out of fear, treating others unfairly and with hatred and paranoia. Let's be better than that and think of this as a test of our character. As Abraham Lincoln said at another trying time in our nation, "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may be strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
And Going Forward, Let's Make Things Better
Let us remember that, as we struggle through this terrible time in our world's history, and it will be worse for us in Louisiana because of long-standing problems that have made us more prone to COVID-19 and a lot of other diseases. If you're familiar with LHCC, you'll know our purpose is to network and provide resources (like training and mini-grants) to people and communities across the state fighting tobacco and obesity, our two biggest health risks, so that we can become a healthier state. And to fight those risks, we have to do a lot of things: pass more smoke-free ordinances, keep kids from vaping, re-think our food, install more bike lanes, build more parks, etc.
But it also means re-thinking why some of these things came about, and how we change those in a more systematic, sustainable way. We didn't get here just by accident, folks, and we need to look to the future – now more than ever. We need to understand that many of our problems result from deliberate policies and actions. For example, it's been proven that tobacco companies target people to get them to smoke. Food manufacturers actually engineer food to be addictive. We know if people are poor, they are less likely to live in an area that has affordable produce, or have a nearby park, and guess what? They are more likely to be overweight then. And that leads to more disease, lost lives, lost productivity, higher insurance premiums, more taxpayer dollars going to health care, etc. But if all neighborhoods had nearby parks, or people could make a living wage, then we could all live in "nicer" areas. And then guess what? We'd be healthier, more productive, and have lower private and government-related health care costs.
So let's think: Isn't it better going forward to make sure parks and bike lanes are included in infrastructure up front? Might it be better for the company who is using someone's labor to pay them a fair wage, rather than underpaying them and then having taxpayers pick up the tab later on? There's no free ride – someone pays sooner or later. But if we do the smart thing, and the right thing, we can all be healthier and happier. And in the end, isn't that what we all want?