Don’t pick up the phone to make that restaurant reservation just yet. Even if you’re begging for a reason to do something other than “feed my sourdough starter,” the seriousness of COVID-19 hasn’t changed much since March, despite what headlines say about reopening.
That’s not to say your longing to see friends, hit up your favorite restaurants, and go on dates is bad. We all want to do that right now. However, flocking to malls, restaurants, and beaches to create some semblance of life-before-COVID is an itch we can’t just absentmindedly scratch.
Because as frustrating as it is, we’re still in COVID-motion, my friends. We still don’t have a ready-to-administer vaccine or a cure. While there have been notable scientific developments and clinical trials are going on this summer, a surefire solution is far from ready to be widely distributed. Meaning even as government and state officials have given businesses and public spaces the green light to reopen, health mistakes like not wearing a mask or not washing your hands could lead to permanent consequences.
Officials have openly recognized that reopening will likely lead to tens of thousands more cases of COVID-19, and scores of subsequent deaths. Still, that hasn’t stopped them from sending a very lost-in-translation message to go forth and mask… maybe? Counties have varying rules and ideas of enforcement, which often leaves essential workers to look out for the community’s health. Truly, it’s confusing out there.
But that’s why we have to make health decisions based on science, and not wishful thinking. We’re all eager for the nostalgic “normal” of before, but as the last few weeks have shown, that definition is gone.
So let’s go back in time, to when it all began in March, because those rules are our new normal, and we can get used to them again.
With 24/7 news offering continual updates, and social media feeds bursting with info (some of which is definitely not based on truth), it can be easy to forget the facts. So what do we know?
As of mid-June, nearly half a million people across the globe have died from COVID-19 — and deaths from the United States make up about a quarter of this figure.
In fact, researchers have called the death rate among U.S. citizens “staggering,” with 1.3 percent of those who show symptoms ultimately succumbing to the disease. To all those naysayers who said it was nothing worse than a bad cough, consider this: In comparison, the death rate from seasonal flu is 0.1 percent.
We also don’t have enough information to safely determine the long-term effects of COVID-19 (or the recovery). Whether you’re completely able-bodied and “quick” to recover, COVID-19 can still cause lung damage or increased shortness of breath. Have you seen a COVID-19 lung?
Typically “research is ongoing” is a phrase that normally brings calm to not make rash decisions but in this case every piece of new info and perspective about COVID adds to the importance of masking up and physically distancing. Because you don’t have to touch someone to catch COVID-19. It primarily spreads through close in-person contact, meaning anywhere within a distance of 6 feet is a danger zone.
According to research on super-spreading, it only takes 20 percent of people with infections to drive cases up by 80 percent.
And this isn’t about who’s coughing and who isn’t. Whether it’s shouting and heavy breathing, little droplets of moisture still get expelled and — as gross as it sounds — they can easily land in the mouth, nose, or eyes of someone nearby.
Even if nobody in your friend group is displaying symptoms, it doesn’t mean throw your COVID cautions to the wind. There’s a giant question mark that remains over infection rates from those showing no symptoms at all.
Global studies indicate up to 80 percent of individuals with COVID-19 have no idea they even have the virus, which means we should be more vigilant because it’s possible to unknowingly spread the disease to someone who won’t recover.
The asymptotic reality isn’t to distract from the fact that the majority of cases are passed on by those with symptoms. It’s just to show that we shouldn’t expect a full-blown “Contagion” (2011) scene in order to take this seriously. Infectious transmission includes pre-symptomatic individuals (those who will go on to develop signs), asymptomatic, and symptomatic.
Focusing on how you won’t encounter “the worst case scenario” is lulling yourself into a false sense of security.
That said, try not to take this as a reason to move through the world in panic either. While the advice is to act as if you have the virus, we don’t have to move through the world afraid of individuals and groups as if they are a danger. There’s not often a telltale way to determine how one comes in contact with the virus. But this is what makes prevention habits your best bet for moving with confidence in your new normal.
We’ve all heard the debate around face masks and their efficacy in the fight against COVID. Previous research indicated we should be wearing them, and new insights have revealed just how effective they are in preventing both spreading of the disease — and potentially eliminating it.
In a study published at the start of June, U.S. researchers found that wearing of face masks prevented 78,000 COVID infections in Italy over a month-long period; while, in New York, doing so staved off 66,000 cases across a 3-week time span. When you consider how many incidents might have been prevented globally by everyone donning a mask, you get why it’s important to wear one.
More recently, Rich Davis, a clinical microbiology lab director, tweeted to show how effective masks were at preventing droplet spreads.
If you feel self-conscious about putting on a face covering, or believe they’re unnecessary, instead consider how your wearing one will benefit others. Doing so could aid in preventing the spread of COVID if you’re a pre- or asymptomatic carrier, and also help put those around you at ease if they’re feeling anxious about catching the virus. Essentially, these little pieces of cloth represent kindness and consideration at a time when we should all be looking out for each other.
An added bonus? Plenty of imaginative and fun designs mean you don’t have to go about your business looking like you’ve just stepped out of a surgical theater — and you could even buy several to coordinate with different outfits for a touch of Parisian-style chic. So go wild and wear with pride.
Not all masks are equal
It shouldn’t be one mask to rule them all or else wear none at all. Cloth and face coverings are still preferred over no barriers at all.
Scientists say that, although there is a possibility of surface transmission, the majority of cases stem from direct exposure. So you don’t need to disinfect your groceries or quarantine your mail — but do make sure you wash your hands and wipe down surfaces once you return home from the store or after you open a delivery.
Doing your part to ensure you don’t pass on COVID germs — whether you think you have it or not — involves just a few simple steps:
- Keep at least 6 feet away from people who are not members of your household.
- If you aren’t able to physically distance (the struggle is oh-so-real in supermarket aisles), wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose. Do not take it off to speak.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds at a time, using soap — make like Ross Geller and count the Mississippi’s if you’re not sure on speed.
- Disinfect surfaces that are used frequently — desks, coffee tables, door knobs, kitchen counters.
- Stay at home if you show any signs of sickness — even if you think it’s just a cold. If you have a confirmed case of COVID-19, self-isolate for 14 days.
Chances are you’ve heard the term “herd immunity” bandied about over the last few months as a solution for moving past the COVID-19 crisis. The thinking behind this is that, if a large number of people become immune after being exposed and developing antibodies, then the germs are less able to spread and the overall population will be protected.
As intriguing as this may sound — after all, it would mean cutting out the wait for a vaccine — it’s simply not a viable option. (Although, to repeat ourselves, wearing masks is a herd-immunity mindset we could all get behind.)
First up, we don’t yet know enough about reinfection rates for COVID-19, and whether our bodies are actually able to generate the necessary antibodies to stop us from developing the disease again. Plus, there’s evidence that antibodies may only last up to 2 or 3 months. Again, it’s all to say there’s no fool-proof protection that scientists are confident about right now.
Secondly, the number of people that would have to become infected in order to quantify “the herd” is huge. Researchers suggest more than 200 million citizens in the U.S. alone (that’s over 70 percent of the population) would have to contract and recover from COVID-19 before the disease stops spreading. Millions would die in trying to achieve this figure, and the healthcare system would be entirely overwhelmed caring for patients.
We’re certainly not saying you have to live a life of solitary confinement until this passes (which, one way or another, it will). However, do consider whether your trip out is really necessary, and if so, what you can do to minimize the risks to both yourself and others.
When it comes to COVID-19, caring definitely isn’t sharing — so keep your hands clean, your face covered, and help protect your community. Besides, even when COVID-19 is over, these are habits we should keep.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, travel, food, health and fitness.