The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is not like the flu. Some have dubbed it the "Boomer Remover" and there's unfortunately truth in that phrase. It spreads quickly and cryptically in young populations, and about 80% of them will have no or minor symptoms. But those who are elderly, immunocompromised or have comorbidities will disproportionately suffer hospitalizations and hospital deaths.
When people get seriously ill with COVID-19, their hospital stay is typically many days rather than two to three days. This will overburden our already short supply of hospital beds. (Italy has 12 hospital beds per 100,000 people – we have 2.3.) Many will need ventilators. The supply of hospital beds and ventilators will likely be exceeded by May - unless we, as individuals, practice effective social distancing as quickly as we can.
Another key difference between influenza and COVID-19 is that the new coronavirus is mostly transmitted by droplets, rather than the aerosols on which flu can survive on. Droplets are larger particles than aerosols, and travel a shorter distance before dropping to the ground. Influenza can transmit disease at a longer distance than COVID-19. Therefore, social distancing for COVID-19 is generally defined, in average-ventilated indoor spaces, as contact of 6 feet or less for 15 minutes.
The best ways to prevent both COVID-19 and flu transmission are to wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, don't touch your face, and practice social distancing.
But wait. Having a social life with dear friends is key for both spiritual and physical health. How can we do this and yet have physical social distancing? And how can the places we love to go, like restaurants and theaters, survive?
Prescott is a fabulous place to live. One of its sublime advantages is the temperate warmth and beauty of its outdoors.
If your favorite restaurant has an outdoor patio, use it. If you have a deck or patio , during warm days but cool evenings, have weekend outdoor lunches with friends rather than indoor dinners. If you're socially inclined with a lot of meetings, have walking meetings on the Peavine or other trails. Use teleconferences and video for meetings, friends and family, and to communicate with your health care providers. Many video apps like WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime, are free and user friendly. For a few months, keep up with your church, clubs, political meetings or candidates virtually.
Support your favorite restaurants by ordering takeout or buying gift certificates for later use. Tip generously. Use restaurants with outdoor patios. And yes, now you can eat more garlic!
Indoor restaurants and theaters may cope by distancing tables and available seats to allow more indoor social distancing. Yes, that cuts revenue, but during crises some revenue may be better than none.
Even while supporting local culture, there will be fewer social events we can go to. Use time to keep up friendships on the phone or with video chats. Get the books you've always wanted to read, and read them. Do likewise with videos and music. Knit, crochet, garden or do some art. Learn an instrument or a new language. Visit your favorite museums around the world online. Many of them have websites you can use, for free, to wander through their collections from the comfort of your armchair.
In Prescott the weather is mostly fabulous, plus we have beautiful places to hike and enjoy fresh air. Some are handicapped accessible. Get out on the trails! Go sit on a bench at Watson Lake, in the Dells, or any of the lakes nearby. Meet a friend and enjoy a nice visit from a safe distance.
When we think about and contact other people, our world grows. Offer to be of service to your neighbors should the need arise. Offer to drop off food or pick up prescriptions or groceries for them and ask that they consider offering the same. Instead of stocking up on toilet paper, stock up on aluminum pans and extra food storage containers so you can share food with others.
Prescott's Fourth Friday and dispersed outdoor events like Earth Day are wonderful opportunities to practice social distancing while having a great time. You control your movements and proximity to other people.
Be smart, be safe and take this opportunity to keep up with your friends, develop new friends and new skills, and get outside.