In a far off city called Wuhan in China, a bunch of people who were connected to the Huanan wet market takes ill with what seems like a common cold or flu at first, but which rapidly deteriorates into a Pneumonia and even as the doctors struggle to identify the cause and treat these few; patients starts coming in overwhelming numbers with similar symptoms. The city is shut down and quarantined. Within a few weeks, they identify the cause, a new virus, with no cure or vaccination, which has by now crossed oceans and started spreading in far off lands, silently at first then like wildfire. It seems like the plot of a Hollywood thriller.
By the time we realized this is the reality we’ll have to live in, the disease was already at our doorsteps. Even as we sit indoors in a nationwide curfew, we hear the numbers going up. All this is enough to make even the skeptics anxious. Some are on the verge of fear psychosis while others are still criminally callous. Let us find some real answers to some of the most common questions on your mind.
Why is it such a big deal?
The virus is highly contagious, every sick person gives it to at least 2-4 people, so it multiplies exponentially and although 80% people develop only mild disease, the 20% or so who get sick will need hospital beds which they will occupy for an average of 10 days, out of this 4-5% will need ICU beds and ventilators which they may occupy for weeks. Since the virus spreads fast and the disease manifests shortly after an infection, if left unbridled many people get sick at the same time. The number of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators are limited and much lesser than the demand that can be expected if people get sick as fast as we have seen in other countries. The protective gear available for health care workers is also scarce which means they have a real chance of becoming sick and exposing their co-workers leading to large numbers of them going into quarantine resulting in a reduction of health care capacity.
Why not just quarantine the sick and their contacts?
The virus produces symptoms anywhere between 5-14 days after entering the body. The virus spreads mainly through 2 modes- cough droplets and through surfaces that a sick person has touched after touching his own face or mouth or coughing or sneezing into his hands. The number of viruses in our secretions may already be high enough to transmit disease before we start showing symptoms. So if you have the virus and go about your daily routine, you may get sick only after 2-3 days but could have transmitted the disease to 3 people already who are on their way to spreading to other people even before you have been tested positive.
In the absence of social distancing, we meet anywhere between 10-100 people a day. If you talk with a person for 15 minutes while sitting within 2metres of each other, he has chances of contracting the disease from you, even if you don’t cough or touch them.
What can I do now?
Stay indoors, follow the news, do what the government tells you. Even if some of the policies do not look sensible immediately, time will tell you its value. Try to minimize the number of outings you need per week. Plan your menu and make a list of groceries and other consumables, like soap, hand wash, batteries, drinking water supply if you don’t have a filter at home. Account for the fact that users would be more than usual since everybody is at home.
Try to limit trips to once a week. Arrange to have milk delivered instead of going out every day to buy. Or store in the fridge after boiling so it keeps longer. There are online apps for groceries and vegetables. Avoid hoarding, it is a waste of money and resources for you and ends up in unnecessary scarcity for others.
You are avoiding the major mode of transmission by keeping indoors. Just be careful of frequently touched surfaces like door handles, lift buttons and handrails of stairs, etc if you live in an apartment. Live virus is known to survive for extended periods on surfaces. After bringing in groceries it is a good practice to wash plastic/ tetra packs before putting into refrigerator. Avoid putting the metal or plastic packs of drinks etc directly to your mouth without cleaning them. Do not let kids handle supplies before you’ve cleaned them. Wash your hands thoroughly after putting away your supplies. Do not touch your face, eyes or mouth without washing your hands.
I am an essential service provider and need to go out, what can I do to keep myself safe?
Try to take all precautions possible. Use individual transportation, not more than 2 in a car. Try to maintain social distancing at the workplace, avoid congested coffee rooms and dining areas. Plan to have the common areas, doorknobs, lift buttons cleaned frequently. Wear masks if you are a person coming into close contact with outsiders. Avoid touching your face, frequently wash hands following all 10 steps. Keep a hand sanitizer with you try to use it before you touch your personal work surfaces if you have a cubicle.
Carry minimum number of objects when you go out and try to bring back the bare minimum to home, you could leave everything except your keys and phone in the vehicle itself. Also make sure to wipe your phone with a specific solution or with spirit (rubbing alcohol), especially if you have kids, because they’re sure to handle it as soon as you set it down. Wash your hands immediately and change your clothes and take a bath before sitting down on the sofa or bed or having food or tea.
I have health issues, what do I do?
If you have pre-existing diseases, you are more vulnerable to COVID-19, try to stay at home, take your regular medicines, hospitals are providing teleconsultations, utilize that. If you have people living with you who still need to go out of home, try to keep your distance from them. Try to keep exercise routines within your compound walls. If you live in a gated community, try to keep away from social walks, explore indoor exercise options, there are thousands of videos on youtube that you can follow and keep yourself fit from your living room.
I heard that certain medicines predispose to infection, should I stop them?
Do not stop any medicine on your own. Having an uncontrolled Diabetes, Blood pressure, Lung disease, Kidney or Liver disease can be more harmful than the medicines you are taking for them. Please seek your doctor’s advice before taking such decisions.
Again, keep in mind that although hospital visits are to be kept to a minimum at this time, you do not want to be admitted for another disease at a time when CoVID patients might be coming in.
If there no vaccine or cure, what will we do if we get the disease?
As we know 80% will have a mild disease like any cough or cold and it will run its course and get better even without any treatment. Those who get slightly more severe symptoms are given certain drugs to prevent further infections and to prevent complications of the Coronavirus disease i.e. to prevent it from getting worse. Those that go on to very severe diseases will need supportive therapy to prevent different organs going into failure and need a ventilator to help them breathe as the lung is most commonly and severely affected.
I am young, so am I safe?
Although it affects both young and old people, Older (>60yrs) people and those with diseases of heart, increased blood pressure, lung, kidney, heart, liver, diabetes have more chances of severe disease. But this does not mean that young people cannot have severe disease, just that the chances are less.
What next? When will it all end?
The virus will take its time to go away. There is no magic number of days. The measures taken now will only slow the virus down, help keep the number of patients under the maximum manageable by the current capacity of our healthcare system. We also get time to increase this capacity and to produce and procure medical supplies that are facing a shortage. The scientists get time to investigate newer treatment options and to appraise existing ones. The numbers you see on the news will likely keep increasing for some time to come, and then fizzle out slowly over a few months. Understand that it had the potential to be much worse and the compliance of each one of us has gone in towards keeping these numbers manageable.
We have no choice but to wait it out. Do not let it take a toll on you mentally. All these restrictions are for our collective and individual safety. Staying alive and healthy is the priority at this point.
What started as a bunch of daring viruses jumping species in a distant market of Wuhan has ended up being a crisis that has brought the 6 billion strong human life on this planet to a standstill. Our strengths have now become our greatest weakness, man is a social animal and that exactly is the virus’s biggest gain. We must understand that COVID-19 is a lesson in an individual’s responsibility towards the collective. This virus has conquered powerful nations over the span of 100 days spreading from person to person, one at a time. Ironically each one of them also had the power to break the chain, as we do now. Let us not waste our chance.