Wednesday, May 27

Gauging a return from quarantine

I have a theory based on absolutely no scientific data. In fact, my theory is supported by no data at all. Nothing other than my own weariness with the lockdown, my own confusion about what really works vs what might really work.

Bettmann Archives/Getting Images
I've been reading about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic because I was curious about how it ended. Millions died. There were many who took precautions by wearing masks, washing their hands, etc. Hygiene was different then. There was a war going on so that certainly didn't help. There was no concept of social distancing then. 

Apparently then, as now, there were "slackers" who didn't want to wear masks because they were unfashionable, uncomfortable, hot, or they just didn't want to. Then again, many masks were made of gauze so they were incredibly porous and one can only imagine that the effectiveness was minimal.

What I've also learned is that virus pandemics are not new: "[h]istorical records since the 16th century suggest that new influenza pandemics may appear at any time of year." So the FACT that pandemics arise is something about which every health organization and every government should be aware and for which they should all be prepared. Period. No excuse. None.

Loss of life due to illness that is preventable or somewhat controllable when precautions are taken is not acceptable. This graphic puts COVID-19 in stark perspective

I am NOT saying don't wear masks (though there is at least one bar owner in my state banning masks), don't social distance, and don't take other precautions. I am saying, however, that we need to be educated about why we do what we do and we have to be intentional about those actions.

I'm also noting that the world is much cleaner in 2020 than it was in the 14th century. Yes, there is still overcrowding in some areas and those who live in poverty may not be able to take all of the precautions that many of the rest of us take for granted.

I did some further reading about 20 of the worst epidemics in history. So we know--and have known--that disease can wipe out and devastate entire communities. In some cases, the plague or epidemic forced a change or even several changes in response to and because of the toll and the ravages of the disease. Cholera, for example, caused city designers to create more green space.

What is interesting to me is that there is a pattern of quarantine--an attempt to contain the virus--and then insurrection or rebellion when people tire of being quarantined. What is particularly striking to me is that there is no clear reference, no discussion to the end of some of these pandemic. It's though the virus simply stops infecting people or there were enough people with an immunity of some sort that the virus weakened and went dormant. If anyone has more information about that or legitimate sources I might go to--and sorry, I don't really trust the CDC right now.

Yes, in some cases a vaccine was developed, such as in the case of smallpox, cholera, diptheria, typhoid, and polio. But not all: Ebola is still a threat as is scarlet fever, HIV and Zika.

So what's my theory? Within a few weeks of re-opening some businesses, whether there is a spike in positive cases or not, many will simply stop wearing their masks. It will be hotter for those of us in the northern hemisphere as we approach summer. We won't want that fabric on our faces. And if we don't know of anyone who has been sick or if no one or few people in our communities have been sick, we won't see the point.

Many of us have started a countdown from Memorial Day weekend when revelers in different parts of the United States chose not to social distance. We have no idea where those folks live and if they left festivities to carry the virus back to their homes, and we won't know for a couple of weeks. 

And if we get to mid-June and there are few spikes anywhere, people will push harder against phased re-openings and demand we re-open everything now and dispense with masks and social distancing. We will see a slow creep back to whatever felt or seemed normal before COVID-19.

However, if I were the owner of a salon, restaurant, bowling alley, bar, theater, or any place that people might gather in close proximity, I would put all of my social distancing measures in safe storage and not too far from my place of business. For at least 6 months I would closely monitor my employees, for sure, and ease into relaxing my own social distancing policies. At the end of those 6 months, I might stop taking the temperatures of my employees, but I'd still keep my social distancing measures in safe storage and not too far from my place of business because I would want to pivot to protection the very moment it seemed there might be a spike or recurrence of the virus.

At home, I'll keep my excess of latex gloves and be sure I know where my masks are. I'll be sure I always have plenty of appropriate wipes and any other precautionary resources.

Because when the next virus comes--and it will--I'd want to be ready as a business owner and I will be ready as an individual.