Sunday, March 15, 2020


So, this is where we are, in a time of canned foods, hand washing, social distancing, self-isolating, and quarantining. The unthinkable has happened, a global pandemic, something we only thought happened in movies, and the whole thing has seemed surreal, like we are in a movie, but we’re not, with all the characters you would expect: doctors and scientists trying to warn people the threat is real, politicians denying the threat until they can’t anymore, and grocery shelves stripped bare. Thus, the canned peaches, also a nod to the book by Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See, which gave me a full new appreciation for the fruit, and what a comfort it might be in hard times, and so I bought a can.

Disclaimer: I am neither a Physician nor an Epidemiologist, but I am a scientist and I can read. All of the following “might” be the case, based on “what studies suggest.” It’s so early in the understanding of this new novel coronavirus COVID019, that we must all take everything with a grain of salt and avoid being too definitive.

Testing is still extremely limited, and being prioritized for medical professionals (who may have been exposed), those with more severe symptoms, and those at high risk for being exposed (foreign travel, contact with someone known to have COVID-19). Because of the shortage of testing capabilities, they can’t be wasted on those with mild symptoms.

Yet, those with mild or even no symptoms likely pose the greatest threat in spreading the disease, because they may not even know they are infected. Plus people might be contagious for several days before they even show symptoms, and unknowingly spreading the virus, according to an article in The Guardian (Sample, 2020). 

There is a good article describing what happens at the cellular level in USA Today (Rodriguez and Zarracina, 2020). If it stays in the upper respiratory tract, it’s not so bad, but if it gets into the lungs, it can be serious. The virus largely spares children. Outcomes are worse for the elderly and those with underlying symptoms. Everyone is at risk. No one has immunity.

Hand washing is good, but might not be enough (Khamsi, 2020). While the World Health Organization has stated that COVID-19 is not airborne, this only means that it’s less likely to be transmitted via droplets greater than 5 microns in size (i.e., the definition of airborne). Smaller particles, less than 5 microns, are considered aerosols, and these particles likely stay in the air longer and travel farther. So, it could be in the air, but again, masks need to be reserved for those who need them most, in the medical field.

Studies show that the virus can still be detected up to 3 hours later in the air, 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 2 to 3 days on plastic or stainless steel (Marchione, 2020). The good news is that disinfecting wipes appear to be pretty effective in killing off the virus, so that’s good news.

The grim reality is that most of us will probably get COVID-19. Harvard Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch predicts 40 to 70 percent of the world’s population will contract COVID-19 within the year (Hamblin, 2020). It may become part of the regular cold and flu season. But right now it’s a tidal wave.

The problem is that so many people are getting it now at the same time. We are beyond the point of containment. It’s here, and the best we can do now is learn from other countries, and slow the spread (i.e., “flatten the curve”), so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system (Bitton, 2020; Boston Infectious Disease Specialists, Barlam, et al., 2020).

The human mind has a hard time grasping the concept of things that expand exponentially (McArdle, 2020; Stevens, 2020). Here are a couple of articles that help with visualizing exponential trends. 

It appears to be far more easily transmitted, and more contagious than the average cold or flu, and so more people will get it. We’re told that the vast majority of people (82%) will have mild symptoms, which is a double-edged sword, as people with mild symptoms may not even be aware they’re infected and will continue to spread the virus. Unfortunately, for now, we need to act as if anyone, including ourselves, might be infected. Thus, the social distancing and the canned peaches.

Unfortunately, human nature tends to make leaders deny the gravity of the situation and delay taking bold action, until it is too late. Kudos to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker for making the right decisions at the right time, and declaring a state of emergency Tuesday, March 10th. More will probably need to be done. We’re a week or two behind Europe, and could be looking at store closings, with only essential businesses remaining open (pharmacies, grocery stores, etc.).

Most of us will get COVID-19 eventually, and most of us will be okay. Some of us will get a little sick, and some of us will get really sick. We're going to be fighting this for a while. Some of us and our loved ones will fall seriously ill, and that’s why we need to act in a way that is best for the greater good, protecting vulnerable populations, and preserving resources for the medical community and those who need it most. Even with our best efforts, some will suffer, some will perish, and I grieve already for those souls everywhere.

We’ll get through this. We’ll have opportunities to be kind and think of our neighbor. “Kindness is infectious too,” said Rebecca Mehra, who went in the store and shopped for an elderly couple she just met in the parking lot. This YouTube video has gone viral. (sorry!)

There will be sunshine again. The economy and the stocks will recover. There will be a pent-up demand for gathering at our favorite restaurants and coffee shops, movies, sports, and concerts when this is over. We are social animals. While you’re hunkering, isolating, or quarantining, phone a friend, go for a walk, or read a good book. If you can’t get to your local bookseller, Amazon is still delivering, and eBooks work too. Here are a few suggestions from my reading list, and I hope to have a new one to add to the list soon!

First, a couple of books we all might be able to relate to right now, involving people living under confined conditions.

All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a book so beautifully written, one almost weeps with each turn of the page, knowing that it only draws you closer to its end. A story about radios, a mineral museum, and occupied France during WWII. And a can of peaches.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, a story about a man under house arrest, sentenced to live out the rest of his life in a Moscow hotel.

Next, a couple of books to take us on virtual adventures, even if we can’t leave our homes.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, on the surface about a whirlwind world-wide book tour, a bit of a travelogue, and a lot about understanding one’s place in the world, and how misinterpreted it could be. For anyone who has ever felt less than. It really could and should be made into a movie

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, which would also make a great movie, takes us on a tour through time, past and present, and between Italy and California.

For the kids:

Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin.

If I Built A Car, by Chris Van Dusen.

Post Script

Last few suggestions for isolating: Thermometer, Tylenol, Delsym, and Vitamin C. Hydrate. Eat right, do some simple exercises, and be kind. Have a cup of tea and read.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) might be recommended over Advil (ibuprofen), based on observations so far, but the medical community is still debating this (Khazan, 2020).

We always knew the “Preppers” were going to be right someday.

Don’t some of the depictions of the coronavirus remind you of Shrek’s ears?

Trying to take a break from the non-stop news coverage, we switched over to Parks and Recreation, only to stumble on the episode where Pawnee does a natural disaster drill responding to an avian flu pandemic (Season 5, Episode 13). We can’t escape it; it’s everywhere!

Happy Birthday Mom! Miss you.

Post Post Script

Clarification, the coronavirus seems to largely spare young children, but those in their teens, twenties and thirties can also have serious cases.

For a really good explanation of how the virus behaves once it gets into the body (Yong, 2020):

For an explanation of how this crisis unfolded, through a series of missteps and missed actions (Madrigal and Meyer, 2020):

It was only a few weeks ago when our President was calling the coronavirus a hoax. He has changed his tune now, but we have lost precious time.

A song for spring, when we should be watching butterflies: 
"Pale Grass Blue," by Enya

“One by one they fly away.” 


Barlam, Tamar Foster, et al. 2020. Boston’s infectious disease specialists’ message to the public: Don’t be cavalier about the coronavirus. The Boston Globe. 13 March 2020.

Bitton, Asaf. 2020. Social distancing: This is not a snow day. Ariadne Labs.  12 March 2020, updated 14 March 2020.

Hamblin, James. 2020.You’re likely to get the coronavirus: Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain. The Atlantic. 24 February 2020.

Khamsi, Roxanne. 2020. They say coronavirus isn’t airborne – but it’s definitely borne by air. 14 March 2020.

*Khazan, Olga. 2020. Should you take Advil for COVID-19? The Atlantic. 18 March 2020.

 *Madrigal, Alexis S., and Robinson Meyer. 2020. How the coronavirus became and American catastrophe. The Atlantic. 21 March 2020.

Marchionne, Marilyn. 2020. Novel coronavirus can live on some surfaces for up to three days, new tests show. Time. 11 March 2020.

McArdle, Megan. 2020. When a danger is growing exponentially, everything looks fine until it doesn’t. The Washington Post. 10 March 2020.

Rodriguez, Adrianna, and Javier Zarracina. 2020. What does the coronavirus do to your body? Everything to know about the infection process. USA Today. 14 March 2020.

Sample, Ian. 2020. Coronavirus: Many infections spread by people yet to show symptoms. The Guardian. 12 March 2020.

Stevens, Harry. 2020. Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve.” The Washington Post. 14 March 2020.

*Yong, Ed. 2020. Why the coronavirus has been so successful. The Atlantic. 20 March 2020.

* added in Post Post Script

© 2020 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life” (Gainline Press 2004). The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of any other agency or organization. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. Twitter: Rosebud@GainlineRS

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