I am probably in the bottom 30% of people qualified to talk about the coronavirus COVID-19, but there are 2 reasons why I’m doing it today. One—many people in my audience are medically vulnerable, and two—I’m just an hour’s drive north of the epicenter of coronavirus deaths in Washington State. I have a much funner topic I’d rather write about (stay tuned for next week!) but I feel my audience craves messages of acknowledgment and support right now.
From what I’ve read, the virus is not that serious in (most) children, but is very serious in older people. Death occurs when the immune system overresponds with cytokines (messenger chemicals that stimulate immune response) and inflammation overwhelms the lungs.
Who are the most vulnerable? According to the CDC, they are:
- The elderly
- People with chronic conditions
- People with suppressed immune systems
Some posts have said “this virus is deadly for only these people:” and lists the vulnerable. Many of these people are rightly upset by the dismissive use of the word “only,” and the resulting notion that if you’re not one of the “only,” you don’t need to be mindful.
I have a friend with an autoimmune disorder who is struggling with the choice of whether or not to keep her healthy daughter home from school to prevent her from bringing the virus home to her. I have another who is recovering from Lyme disease and chose not to take a dearly anticipated plane trip to visit her family. For these people, the outbreak is not a “maybe” thing to watch from a distance and make jokes about, it’s real and it’s arrived.
We have a lot of chronic conditions and suppressed or compromised immune systems in this audience. My chronic condition is pain, which probably doesn’t slot me into the medically vulnerable category, but I’m used to living with the same precautions they’re advising online right now, because my egg allergy makes me unable to get a flu shot, and we’ve had some nasty versions of flu in recent years. (The vaccine is cultured in eggs, and egg allergy is the one vaccination side effect acknowledged by the AMA—the blood recognizes residual egg protein in the blood as an intruder, and produces antibodies, hence an allergy. This occurs in a very small percentage of the population, and I would still rather have an egg allergy than have died of polio, measles or whooping cough before age 10. I am NOT an anti-vaxxer.)
If I got the shot anyway, I wouldn’t just get a rash and sniffles, as many people seem to think when going all judgy on me—the last time I got an egg-based vaccine, I was seriously ill for 3 months, and heart damage was a concern. On top of all that, I tested with zero immunity for the diseases in that vaccine 2 years later. Measles outbreaks drive me to self-quarantine. In my tiny house in the woods, where I work from home, that’s not hard to do.
So back to the point—I have lots of friends who are seeing the funny memes and the cavalier attitudes, and they’re concerned about the people who don’t think they need to worry. We all need to behave sensibly to protect the medically vulnerable people we love. If that’s not you, think about who that is in your life. I can think of lots of people without racking my brain—my mom, who is 84 and has asthma. Two of my best friends, one who is pushing 70 and works as a school bus driver in the county where the most cases have been recorded, and is therefore probably exposed many times a day, and another with an autoimmune condition, whose husband works in a hospital and has to work hard to avoid bringing germs home. A younger friend with rheumatoid arthritis. Possibly my sisters, one who has fibromyalgia and one who has a heart murmur. That’s not even counting the online friends who inspired this post. And my tiny house hosts—Cathi runs our local Senior Center and she’s responsible for minimizing the risk of exposure within the facility for several hundred elderly members.
It was an interesting scene at the gym yesterday. I noticed people taking extra care to wipe down their equipment, yet there was an elderly couple working out side-by-side on the two NuStep machines near the front window. (The NuStep is a physical therapy machine commonly used by knee replacement patients.) The man was coughing and made no effort to cover it. He would have had to let go of one of the handles, which is no big deal at all. It keeps moving whether you’re holding it or not, and he could have simply grabbed it again after coughing into his sleeve, or better yet, a tissue. I kept waiting for his wife to admonish him, but she never did, and neither did the young lady at the desk barely ten feet away. I moved to back of the room. This morning I woke up thinking about them and how today, if I see anything similar, I’m going to speak up. “Sir, please cover your cough, there’s an outbreak going on.” That’s all it takes. He might cuss me out, but he might also cover up next time. (The rest of us mastered this by age 7–please!) The life I save might be someone I love or someone in my audience, the people I try to represent and stick up for.
What have you seen out there? Good or terrible behavior?