While it is difficult to believe what we cannot see and what may not have impacted our health directly, it is imperative that we understand the reality of the situation. Coronavirus is a disease that spreads quickly and with little notice, and we may not even realise the threat of it, until it is too late. What started as a few cases here or there in the U.S. swiftly reached a massive epidemic through which more than 165,000 people have died and more than 5.1 million people have been infected (COVID-19 Tracker). Many people have chosen not to take it seriously because they have not seen what an infected person looks like or have not experienced a death of someone they love by coronavirus. That said, regardless of whether the population believes it or not, it is the government’s responsibility to limit the potential loss of life by handling a pandemic quickly and thoroughly through, at times, drastic measures.
From the public health perspective, the longer economies can hold out through a full shutdown, the better reducing the spread of this virus and getting a complete hold of the situation will be. Cases ideally should be reduced to a manageable and trackable number before reopening. Nevertheless, governments have had to weigh these decisions against serious economic failure and loss. Country governments under tight economic pressure have ultimately decided to re-open gradually for the sake of the economy. Knowing what we know now, that COVID-19 is less likely to spread from surfaces and more likely to spread from droplets, it is possible to open slowly, while continuing to practice social distancing and wearing protective equipment that will limit the spread of disease.
In the Short-term
As individuals it is imperative that we take this threat seriously. Even if we cannot see it, our health officials and health providers are telling us what they are seeing and how horrible it is for them to deal with this disease. Health authorities and national governments not only know the exact figures but also understand the total damage a pandemic of this or greater magnitude can do and are working to stop it so that the situation does not worsen. Therefore, it is important for us as citizens to follow through on their advice. Though many of us validly have cabin fever and are aching to go out and enjoy ourselves, we are not being asked to do a lot to limit further spread as we reopen, mostly to wear masks in large public spaces and distance ourselves from crowds.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently illustrated the benefits of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in a news briefing. He compared the rates of infection among frontline workers and the general public. Researchers have found that rates of infection were consistently lower among those who were frontline workers in spite of direct and greater exposure.
Governor Cuomo further mentioned that what our future holds depends entirely on what we do. That is really what it boils down to. What are we going to do in the face of this pandemic? If we ignore the real risks, we will see a great unnecessary loss of life that will grow outside of our control. If we follow the rules we have a real chance of stopping this disease and giving both our health care providers and ourselves a fighting chance of coming out of this and returning to a more normal life. The more we prolong our exposure, the more prolonged the ramifications will be for our livelihoods.
As our country governments decide to reopen, we must continue to practice social distancing and wear masks, homemade or medical as much as possible especially when in crowded areas. Remember just because we have re-opened does not mean the risks suddenly disappeared. The risks still exist, and we can only return to normalcy if we continue to keep infection rates low. So please for the sake of yourself, your immunocompromised friends, and your elderly grandmother, continue to take precautions and follow through on recommendations.
If we do not continue to follow guidelines another wave is likely and another shutdown may be necessary. Situations have already arisen since reopening from people not following guidelines. Recently in the U.S. there was a major national holiday. Over the holiday weekend, countless people went to national parks, beaches, and sporting areas and yet many people were not practicing social distancing nor wearing masks. Since then 21 states have seen a sharp rise in cases. If this behaviour continues more spread of the virus, a second wave, and a second shutdown may be inevitable. While we cannot control the actions of others at the very least we can continue to protect ourselves by following the rules so please continue to comply with your government for the foreseeable future.
COVID-19 has also shed light on other long-term sustainability issues such as the destruction of our environment. After just a few weeks of shutdown, countries that have not seen blue skies for years were suddenly been able to see long distances from a lack of pollution. This pollution leads to deleterious effects such as higher rates of cancer and lung diseases and also makes us more prone to diseases like COVID-19. Zoonotic diseases are not easy to stop but we are creating conditions as a human race that are making pandemics more likely.
The permafrost is melting due to global warming which is bringing back diseases that we have never been exposed to dating back to millions or billions of years and for which we do not have any immunity. Further, our pollution of the environment through leaching plastics and greenhouse gasses may be having an impact on infectious diseases and our susceptibility to them. Our daily behaviour puts the health of our family members, colleagues, friends, and community members at risk so we must remember to think of the common good and how we can ensure that this planet is available for our use for a long time to come.
If we continue to live without taking into account the impact we have on our environment and those around us, the planet may respond in-kind and reduce our population through disease without us being able to stop it and with a great toll on our families and communities. For the future, individuals should consider their impact on earth and their environment and how we can better utilise our resources to ensure our survival. Reducing our use of plastic, limiting our use of fuel, making use of renewable energy, and no longer destroying our forests and arable land will go a long way in ensuring the survival of the human race and planet Earth.
We are already incredibly lucky to have tools developed over hundreds of years of research to fight pandemics and prevent them. We know so much more about disease than we did in 1918 and during the bubonic plague. However, that information is worthless unless we utilise those strategies and tools to stop these diseases before they endanger our survival. While to some degree infectious disease outbreaks will happen, as individuals we must curb their spread so that they do not further wreak the havoc that coronavirus has.