Repeat after me: COVID-19 is not a hurricane.
The past few weeks might have felt similar to hurricane season, with people stocking up on supplies and regularly checking a government website for updates. But instead of plywood and batteries, the hard to find items are disinfectant and toilet paper. And instead of checking the National Hurricane Center (NHC) website for the latest “spaghetti tracks” of predicted storm paths, we’re checking the updates from the Florida Department of Health.
Unlike checking the NHC website as a hurricane approaches for storm track and wind speeds, checking the FDOH site doesn’t really give us any indication of just when the pandemic might get worse in our area or how bad the damages will be. That’s because we don’t have hurricane hunter planes out gathering data. Instead, we have a testing system that is sampling just a small fraction of the population.
To get through this, we need to change our mindset. Hunkering down for 48 hours while a storm rages just outside your door is not the same as “self isolating” for weeks, possibly even months. Perhaps, instead of focusing on protecting our own homes and families, we need to think about protecting everyone else.
The health experts tell us about 85 percent of those who contract COVID-19 will have very mild or no symptoms. That means the number of COVID-19 cases could be much higher than any one imagines. The shortage of test kits means only those who are showing some of the more severe symptoms — such as having difficulty breathing — are tested. Even if you have been tested and the test comes back negative, you could be exposed the next day.
So how do we navigate this crisis, until a cure or a vaccine is found? If you have symptoms such as a fever or cough, it could just be a cold or the flu, but it could be COVID-19, so stay home.
Even if you don’t have symptoms, stay home as much as you can.
You protect others by limiting trips to stores to items you absolutely need, not just to “see what’s there.”
You protect others by limiting store visits to the healthiest adult in the family instead of turning it into an outing for the whole family. There’s a Walmart post shared on social media begging for shoppers to use the “one cart, one person” rule to limit the number of people to whom their workers have to be exposed.
You protect others by maintaining the 6-foot socialization space. That means you plan ahead, make a list of what you need and get in and out of the store as quickly as possible to reduce the total number of people in the store at one time. That means you don’t stop to chat with someone in the store, blocking the aisle for other shoppers who can’t pass you without getting close.
You protect others by not hoarding supplies. When you hoard items such as bleach, disinfectant spray and baby wipes, that means other people can’t find them. And those other people have to continue to return to the stores until they do find the supplies they need, increasing their risk of exposure.
You protect others by buying only what you need. If you did not need to buy bottled water before the COVID-19 pandemic, you don’t need to buy bottled water now. The public water supply is safe and utility managers have assured us they will not cut off anyone’s water during this crisis. There are others in your community who need that bottled water to drink, to fill a CPAP machine or to mix baby formula. If you buy up bottled water that you don’t even need, you are endangering their safety.
And if you did hoard supplies or buy items that your family does not need, you protect others by donating your extra supplies to a charity so they can be distributed to those in need.
You protect others by being respectful of the 6-foot social distancing space when you are outdoors for a walk or bike ride, or at the boat ramps,
You protect others by covering your face when you cough or sneeze, even if you’re pretty sure it’s just allergies.
You protect others by helping those most at risk; for example, by calling an elderly neighbor and offering to pick up what they need when you go to the store.
And by protecting others, you slow the spread of the virus, and that helps protect you and your family.
We’re all in this together. We need to protect each other.