Coronavirus Conundrum: Who Ya Gonna Listen To?
These days we’re bombarded with information on TV news stations, in written publications and online on our computers, phones and tablets about the coronavirus. In fact, it seems to be COVID-19 all day, all the time, except when we’re sleeping.
And the information that we’re hearing and reading is duplicitous. It’s become a confused blend--like a more complex, well-rounded wine--of health guidance, protest and partisan politics. For example, someone says the latest study from a top-ranked scientist reports that it’s essential to keep at least 6 feet from anybody unless you’re isolating with that person. Should it be more than 6 feet? Who knows?
Another study from an equally eminent physician warns that it’s only fine to take a walk if you’re wearing a mask that covers your nose and your mouth since there’s no definitive evidence about how long droplets stay in the air or how far they can travel. Oh, and better if you have an N95 or heavy cloth mask or wear two for extra protection. Layering is now quite the rage.
Then, another publication and news report might advise that it’s actually fine to take a walk without a mask if nobody is around and you don’t plan to go inside a building, especially one with narrow aisles and lots of people. And when is the last time you wore gloves when it wasn’t to keep your hands warm? Throw that into the mix.
What about eye protection? Virologist Dr. Joseph Fair who often appeared on NBC was diagnosed with COVID after flying from New Yok City to his home in New Orleans. Dr. Fair says he thought he did all the right things when he traveled on the plane yet three days later caught the virus. He believes he contracted it through his unprotected eyes. Should we all be wearing goggles like we’re ready to go on an underwater dive? Come on. Is this carrying things a bit too far? For us, maybe, but perhaps not for you.
When you get groceries or drugs delivered to your home, the differences of opinion are even more pronounced. Some experts advise you to wipe down all of them outside your home or apartment door with a strong antiseptic or bleach while others say it’s fine not to do so as long as you leave the bags or packages outside, take out what’s inside, bring them inside and wipe down all the wrappings with a bleach.
As for groceries, it might be better to isolate those that don’t need refrigeration for another day or two or three for extra precaution. At all costs, we know you must be sure to avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands all the way up to your elbows with lots of soap and water. Remember to count slowly to 20 or is it better to do it twice and count to 40 just to be sure? And should we be wearing our masks inside our homes so we can’t touch our faces? Are we becoming a bit obsessive? Some of us would nod collectively, “yes.” It’s a good time to be overly cautious, we think.
We’re not done, however. We haven’t yet covered what to do about the mail or packages that arrive from your friendly mail carrier or Federal Express person. Yes, they’re your friends but do they wear a mask and maybe gloves? What if they don’t? Do you even touch the mail or let it sit for 24 hours and use gloves to open it? Friendliness is not synonymous with cleanliness and good hygiene these days.
Or how about the person who carried out your food from your favorite restaurant to the curb and put it in your trunk? Were they hermetically sealed in mask, gloves and maybe a hazmat suit? And did you happen to slip into the conversation even from a safe distance your question about whether the chef was feeling fine when he or she prepared your spaghetti carbonara and chicken piccata? Did they sneeze or cough anywhere near the prep zone? Again, are we being a bit or very obsessive given that you can reheat food safely in microwavable packaging to remove all bacterial traces? Or can you? Do we really know? In such cases, would it have been more prudent to make those dishes at home; it’s really not that difficult. However, that’s assuming you can even get the ingredients from the grocery store.
And is it safe to step on board a plane in coming weeks. Again, consider Dr. Fine. Despite the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mandated that subways be shut down and cleaned four hours each night, can be we sure they’re safe or any other public mode of transportation—plane, train, bus or car--is if others are seated nearby in a confined, closed space, sometimes sitting shoulder to shoulder?
What about finances and income? If you’re invested in the stock market, should we sell, or should we stay put? Should we buy now while the stocks are low? There are different schools of thought about these tactics. Is it safe to go back to work if we cannot work from home (WFH)? Is it worth a paycheck to risk getting sick? Can we even pay the bills without a job right now? We might have to work and have no choice. Perhaps, we’re a frontline essential worker. If not, how long will unemployment pay last? Will the stimulus help at all?
Oh, all this is getting so complicated; so many decisions to make with no conclusive answers.
Because there’s no vaccine yet, when one or several get approved that may fuel another line of serious questions and greater concern—which company’s is the best, has it been tested enough on humans and not just animals, will it really provide protection and for how long, can we even get the vaccine, will drug manufacturers be able to make enough serum and will it prove less effective if the number of anti-vaccinators escalates dramatically? Instead of protesting with guns at state capitol buildings they soon may be marching in front of our favorite drugstores.
What about the drugs being administered and tested once someone has the virus? We know Trump’s love affair with Hydroxychloroquine was short-lived. What about other viral drugs or the plasma from someone who had the virus used to speed up recovery? Is it safe? Does it really work? Is a cocktail of medicines and procedures the right approach? Again, has any of this been tested adequately? Why do these procedures work for some but not for others? There is so much we don’t know.
Life used to be so simple. When it came to facts, we could Google anything and find out right away. Getting any cogent facts about C-19 is as elusive as trying to find any information on why Dr. Deborah Birx is so enamored of her Hermes scarves that she seems to have the entire designer collection. However, most facts are at our fingertips i.e. when was the last year that Harvard trounced Yale in its annual Thanksgiving football game? Or how many books writer John Grisham has penned and how many were made into movies? When was the Polio vaccine developed and how long did it take? And what was Ina Garten’s government job before she started cooking professionally and not just for husband Jeffrey? So many questions but for these there are solid answers.
Nowadays, with the unfolding pandemic, there is far less definitive information, even among the experts. How do we lay folks get more comfortable in the important decisions we must now make? Are you comfortable walking into Target, dining at your favorite restaurant sans mask (who can eat with a mask on) or spending an afternoon on the beach? Can you imagine the tan you’d get if you’re wearing a mask? Before taking these steps outside and unprotected, some get tested and feel if they are negative, they’re good to go. Are they really and are the tests always accurate?
We’ve given this lots of thought as we read the news, watch TV and talk to folks. Nobody seems shy about sharing their thoughts. One smart friend who reads “everything” asks a few experts she knows well for their thoughts. These include one client who holds a doctorate in public health and has written a major textbook about preparedness, a physician who’s an expert in infectious diseases and her own daughter, a doctor, who works at a major teaching hospital in a major metropolitan city where the virus numbers are climbing.
Here’s what we like to do. And while we don’t mean to be dogmatic because it’s not our place to tell others how to gauge their comfort level, some of these ideas might resonate. Obsessive? Hey, this might be the new normal. Who knows, when the new psychology guidelines are published if obsessive-compulsive disorders now might be listed as routine behavior? We’ll have to wait and see much like waiting for this pandemic to end or to get under control. In the meantime, here’s our playbook:
- We limit ourselves daily to reading from certain regular sources we trust most—almost everybody has a major newspaper or news magazine they find offers trustworthy news. We focus on those. To read others, we would find to be overload and confusing.
- We scan some other publications that come our way such as our monthly AARP bulletins, which recently did an entire excellent issue on the virus and how to cope. For others, we say try a few and decide what appeals. Or skip the articles on the virus. Enough is enough.
- We listen to our favorite news channels and certain experts, especially medical doctors who are now regular guests and affiliated with top hospitals, research centers and nonprofit healthcare organizations. Those we like dispense advice in a calm trustworthy way. However, we cannot take everything they say as gospel. As Sen. Rand Paul said to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “I don’t think you’re the end-all.”
- We listen to politicians who present the facts as best as they can, also in a calm measured way rather than overly optimistic or negative or too political-related tone. The ones we favor typically refer to experts and share the latest facts, which, of course, may change by the next press conference. After listening all day to breaking newscasts, we now are each down to maybe one a day or every other day or not at all. Some we know need to get their information hourly.
- We read some newsletters we each receive online from a teaching hospital or political group that we have relied on in the past based on facts. Beware of facts posted on social media, however.
- We listen to a few friends or family members who are paying lots of attention to their favorite sources—maybe, different than those we do. They share what they’re hearing in a mostly nonjudgmental way and tell us from whom they heard it. However, the problem with listening to friends and family is that their sources may be very different from ours, and we’re really loathe in this uncertain time to engage in heated discussions. It causes our blood pressure and temperature to rise which lowers our immune system that’s key to fighting the virus, or so we heard. Maybe, in this day and age, it’s better to ignore the friends and family input and let the experts we admire speak.
- And we stay firm when some friends or family persist in wanting to get together, even sit far apart. We are appreciative that we’re liked, loved and missed! If we decline, it's not meant to sound defensive. If it does, we are trying to stop and leave it just at “no, thank you very much. I miss you, too.”
And then there is always this: We put the publications away without looking at them, delete the online newsletters or ignore them much like we do our current financial statements, turn off the TV news and do what is the only thing we can do, control our own behavior in the way that we feel is most comfortable. That might mean when we go outside wearing the full meal deal—face mask/masks, hat, rubber gloves and, yes, even goggles.