BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Last week in this same spot on the front page we had two cancellations in our social
calendar, with a mention of a third, due to COVID-19 concerns. This week the spot is taken up by us telling you that, essentially, the entire season is canceled.
What a difference a week makes, right?
We are dealing with a virus that was first heard of in China, thousands of miles away. A couple of weeks ago this was more of a bad fairy tale than it was a reality for us. We kept on with our daily lives, but with
each passing day we heard more … and more … and more.
Then it was in Italy. Iran. Iraq. The numbers of people infected and the numbers of people who died from
this virus were startling.
Then it came here.
Then we had no toilet paper.
It’s not a joke, although years from now people will still wonder what the deal was with the toilet paper.
Now, just days later, we have to decide if we’re going to take a chance and go to the grocery store to try to find meat, paper towels, milk or bread. The necessities are running low as soon as the stores open, even if they restock nightly. Doctors on television – people with multiple degrees in microbiology and epidemiology, are
telling us not to be too close to people and not to congregate in groups. But we have to eat, so we do just that to go out to find food for our stockpile.
You can tell when people are starting to realize this might be a long-term situation when they’re on social media trying to barter for yeast to make bread, when there are signs in the stores telling people they can
only buy two of a certain item. People were making their own hand sanitizer for a while, but then the ethyl alcohol ran out. It got even worse when some stores posted signs saying “Only two alcohol items per family.”
Wait a minute, this is Florida we’re talking about!
Then, when the pubs were closed on St. Paddy’s Day in Ireland, and some of us realized we were in for a rude awakening. This had become a problem on a whole new level.
This type of scenario is unprecedented in our lifetimes, in our parent’s lifetimes and, for some of us, in our
grandparent’s lifetimes. Not since 1918 when the Spanish flu claimed so many lives and swept so quickly
around the world did people have to deal with what we are dealing with now. We could be thankful we have
modern medicine and a solid means of disseminating information now, unlike 1918, but unfortunately there is
much about this virus we don’t know.
Most of us don’t even know how to spell it. Is it COVID or COVid? You see it different ways. It stands for “Coronavirus Disease 2019.” I won’t go into science, that’s not my job. I can say it’s a “slippery” virus, which means it can mutate easily and quickly. I found a very simple way to describe why it is different, and I ran it past Dr. Walker at the Boca Grande Health Clinic. He said it is correct. Here it is:
COVID-19 is a novel virus, which means it is brand new to humans. Our bodies have no pre-existing antibodies to this virus like we have to most regular, human influenza strains. Healthy immune systems can make it up as they go along and fight this virus, but the elderly and people with compromised immune systems cannot do that.
This virus also loves to live in your lungs, and if you are infected that is where it travels to. It attaches to your
lungs with its little suction cups, and then it destroys them.
Young people are carriers to older people and to those with compromised immune systems. Healthy people have the potential to kill not-so-healthy people, even if they don’t feel very sick.
COVID-19 is more contagious than any seasonal flu. The death rate for the flu is 1:1,000. For COVID-19 it is 35:1,000.
So here we are, with this novel virus in our country and very few testing kits available. They just recently allowed private laboratories to start making the kits, as used there was once a law on the books that said only government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control could make them. And this is where people get confused.
When you read that there are more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida (as there was
on Thursday, press day), that means there are that many people who were tested and had tests come back positive. People rely on these numbers heavily, because they make them feel safer. But those numbers aren’t accurate at all because only a very small number of people have been tested.
We might be walking around amidst many, many more people who have had or do have the virus, and some will never know they had it. Because this is flu season, many people get sick and just assume they have the regular old flu. Some people who have had the virus barely felt any symptoms, just a low-grade fever and a bit of a sore throat. Some people never felt any symptoms at all.
On Monday morning a group of island people got together and had an emergency briefing on the lawn of the
Boca Grande Community Center. We all sat well away from each other, and the Boca Grande Health Clinic even gave us little bottles of hand sanitizer (please don’t mug me if you see me, I’ll fight you for it). In the meeting Dr. Lauren Hana spoke of the virus, and said the words we all need to hear: If you are around someone who is sick, act as though they have this virus. Pretend everyone has it, as a matter
of fact. Then act accordingly.
It wasn’t a very long meeting, because other than canceling all public events and following the current pro- tocols there isn’t much we can do. We are supposed to be leaving our homes only for the essentials (the grocery store, to pick up our kids, etc.), and to be cautious when we do that. We are supposed to constantly wash our hands, particularly when in public or right afterward. Taking off your shoes at the door, even changing your clothes isn’t a bad idea … then wash your hands again.
Right now the government has mandated that all restaurants seat at 50 percent patron capacity, and position
their tables six feet away from each other. Takeout is encouraged if you need to eat out. The maximum amount of people who should congregate together has gone from 1,000, to 500, to 250, to 50, and now to 10. We are free to move around our own country right now, but domestic flights could be restricted soon, as could interstate travel.
Rumors are rampant about what could happen in the next days or weeks. Some people are telling everyone that martial law or the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act could be put in place, and that National Guardsmen will be setting up checkpoints and making sure no one leaves their homes.There are
already curfews in place in some parts of the country, and the president has restricted travel outside of the country.
The president has admitted he has had thoughts about using parts of the Stafford Act in response to this virus,
but martial law has not necessarily been discussed publicly and government agencies are disputing the fact they will employ it. By the way, that would mean the military was in charge of our daily goings-on, i.e. the National Guard on every corner.
It all sounds very scary, doesn’t it?
But what it all comes down to right now is that we need to keep ourselves clean (wash those paws, folks), try not to touch your face if at all possible unless you have thoroughly washed your hands, keep your distance from other people – healthy or otherwise – and try to stay at home as much as possible. If you’re asking why you need to stay home if you feel fine, it’s because this virus can live in your body for quite some time before symptoms manifest. It also means you could be a “super carrier,” which is a person who doesn’t display any overt symptoms, but infects other people. Your healthy family members might be fine, and the antibodies their immune system makes to fight the virus will work, but for our exceedingly large population in Florida, this is really bad news. Every door knob, gas pump, credit card keypad and dollar bill you touch could be a potential danger for someone else.
You might be one of the non-believers who like to run with the old and tired “the flu kills more people every year than this virus will.” We all have one (or more) of those non-believer friends or family members who scoffs at this virus, who thinks it’s a government conspiracy, and who continues to lick doorknobs and prance about as if everything is fine. Even if it turns out they’re right about everything and we all live happily ever after, the fact that they aren’t courteous enough to entertain the notion this virus could kill people is sad. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re not comfortable being around them right now, don’t hesitate to call them out. This is important, and maybe when this is all over they will understand.
If China, Italy and all the other countries this has so gravely affected are all in the conspiracy together, then that’s some highly-orchestrated madness. Many people have died in other places around the world. Mass-
es of people are quarantined in their homes, and have been for weeks. It would be pretty hard to make that up.
Just because we’re Americans doesn’t mean we have super powers.
There are still more questions: How long does it live on surfaces? How long can it live in my body before, during and after the point I’m infected? How long does it live in the air after I cough or sneeze? The problem is, while researchers with many degrees are frantically trying to find out everything they need to know about this virus, you need to stay home, stay clean and let them figure it out.
Don’t let this freak you out. You will hear all sorts of horrible things, like that it can live for 10 days on some surfaces, that it can stay airborne and fly into your nose after three hours. Maybe it can, maybe it can’t, so just take precautions until the science is sound. If you leave the television on all day and immerse yourselves in the doom and gloom, weeks from now when the danger level is reaching an apex you will be so desensitized that you might make poor decisions. Remember those days just before a hurricane is about to hit and you’re glued to the television, watching for a hairsbreadth change in the storm’s course, when the scary music plays
every two minutes on the news and across the screen it says, “Hurricane Update?” Well, this is like that, only this will go on for weeks.
Stay informed, but listen to your doctor and to the other people who have dedicated their lives to science … not to the mass media and your buddies on the internet.
By the way, we don’t need to write a story about how our island businesses are, and will be, suffering from this: We know it’s going to be bad for them … unprecented, as a matter of fact. People will be without the money that high season usually brings. People will be laid off. The restaurants are doing what they can to keep people fed, and some are staying open … with limited seating, of course. Please do what you can to support them, and our retail shops. Ask them how you can support them. Buy gift certificates, buy online if you can. If they are open by appointment only, make it a point to call them up and buy something there you’ve always wanted but hesitated to get.
We need to be united as possible and work together as a team right now. This is going to get worse before it gets better, but we need to keep our senses of humor, our compassion for our fellow man, and our wits about us.