I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I was going to write a post about the current coronavirus/COVID-19 issue, but despite avoiding the news and keeping my nose buried in projects at home, the topic has become impossible to avoid. Turn on the TV, it’s there. Turn on the radio, it’s there. Drive by a grocery store, it’s there. I’m in touch with quite a few of my family and friends on a regular basis, and things are even creeping into our text conversations.
At my last job, one of my jobs was to handle Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity planning for a large IT system that served several thousand people, including some who were responsible for some aspects of public safety. I was really good at it and people from other cities would send their DR/BC plans to me to check and see if I could find something they missed. I ALWAYS found something they missed. Always.
What I didn’t realize was that I’d been letting my OCD and urge to catastrophize run free when doing that planning, and it worked really well until everyone was asking for me to do that all the time and I couldn’t control it and ended up in the psych ward.
Where am I going with this? Well… I’m not a doctor, epidemiologist, or any kind of scientist, but I’m REALLY good at looking at an existing or potential problem and extrapolating to a ridiculous extent to think of the worst thing that could happen. So, you may be a little surprised when I say that the spread of the COVID-19 virus is…
… really not bothering me that much. Honestly. Don’t get me wrong – I’m aware of it of course, and it’s proven to be more dangerous than seasonal flu on a per-case basis, but you won’t see me fighting over the last roll of toilet paper or box of frozen hashbrowns at the store.
There are a few themes that keep coming up in conversations and in whatever news report or blurb I happen to stumble across online. If you’re bored, keep reading for my thoughts on them…
Should I Stockpile Supplies?
There is a lot of news about people clearing stores out of certain kinds of items. Frozen pizza-related food, bottled water, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper(?) seem to be popular. Unfortunately, everyone from the most reputable news outlets, to your favourite social media stars, to the guy who runs a pirate radio website saying the government is coming to get us all have one thing in common: every page view or video click they get equals money for them. Add that to the fact that almost every single person carries a video camera in their pocket, and you have a recipe for non-stop clips of people leaving Costco with two carts full of Hot Pockets and Purell.
Just seeing or hearing about those videos makes people worry that they’re missing out on something; some of those people then go to the store to stock up, which leads to more available footage, which leads to more people seeing it… you can see the feedback loop that happens. The thing is… it’s all unnecessary. The grocery store supply chains are not going to break down. Think about it: Walmart, for example, is an ENORMOUS company with an insane amount of resources. If one producer is unable to meet demand, Walmart will engage another one to either replace them or complement them. Every store and every chain, whether it sells medical supplies, stationery, televisions, groceries… it is in their best interest to maintain stock so they can sell it and make money.
What you should be doing, though, is not waiting until the last minute to buy something that you normally pick up on a schedule. Things like medications – call the pharmacy a couple of days earlier than normal to give them time to get your stuff ready. Do you have equipment that uses distilled water? Pick a new bottle up a day or two before you run out. Are you having company over on Saturday? Pick up that ham or roast beef after work on Wednesday or Thursday instead of Saturday morning. And yeah… don’t wait until you’ve used your last square to buy another pack of toilet paper.
Think of it like you’re going on an overnight road trip – you should pack your socks and underwear ahead of time instead of hoping that one of the gas stations along the way has stuff in your size.
This Virus Is More Dangerous To Seniors.
A couple of my friends who happen to be anywhere from their mid-50s to mid-60s tell me about this a lot. They are very concerned that COVID-19 is harder on older people.
Here’s the thing, though – I can’t think of a single disease or syndrome (aside from child-specific diseases like Kawasaki, or weird genetic disorders) that isn’t more dangerous to seniors or elderly people. As we get older, our immune systems don’t have the same potency that they used to, and errors at the cellular level build up over time, making it more likely that we’ll develop things like cancer. It’s not a happy thing to think about, but it is, unfortunately, how it goes. On the other side of the coin, the very young are much more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections, too, because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet.
You know who else is more vulnerable and more likely to get sick after catching something?
– Poor people,
– Homeless people,
– Disabled people,
– Immunocompromised people (whether it’s the result of a condition or a treatment), and
– Mentally ill people.
That is not an exhaustive list. You probably know or work with one or more people who fit somewhere into the above list. You may not even know it – not everyone wants even their closest family or friends to know they have a disease or condition or are financially struggling. This is why you should be observing personal hygiene and courtesy by washing your hands, cleaning the surfaces you touch, and cover up your sneezing or coughing. Which brings me to…
Should I Wash My Hands Or Use Sanitizer?
After seeing the video clips of people using their arm to sweep a shelf worth of hand sanitizer into their shopping cart, it’s easy to think that hand sanitizer is the best thing. It’s easier, for sure – just pump and wring your hands for a few seconds and you’re done – 99% of the germs on your hands are now dead/nonviable. But it’s not as good as washing with soap and water. Sanitizer doesn’t make your hands less dirty – it just kills what’s there. Those dead germs fall apart but the pieces stay on your hands, becoming a nice little growth medium for those few bacteria that survived the onslaught, or the ones you just picked up by touching that door knob, elevator button, or your own phone.
Here’s an example that I think does a good job of demonstrating what I mean. Have you ever driven around (particularly on the highway) and had bugs splatter on the windshield? On some days they’ll be all over front of the vehicle – windshield, hood, bumper, lights, etc. Once you pull off the highway and park, though, more bugs show up almost immediately and start to feast on the easy meal of bug guts that you’ve so nicely provided for them. So by killing bugs, you’ve also made food for bugs.
When you wash your hands properly with soap and water, though, you’re physically and chemically removing the germs and any other debris from your hands and washing them to a treatment plant where they are killed, or into a lagoon or somewhere else where they’re suddenly surrounded by a whole bunch of other things that will eat them. So you end up with no germs AND no leftovers for new ones to feed on. Plus, soap and water can remove things like chemicals, plastics, metals, and other things you don’t really want to eat or rub in your eye.
Does that mean sanitizer is bad? Not at all – it does a job, and it does it well. But if you have a choice, properly washing your hands with soap and water is the better way to go.
I Saw That [INSERT HOME REMEDY HERE] Kills Coronavirus
I think this is the one that really bugs me. No, drinking apple cider vinegar will not fix your cough or kill COVID-19 if you have it. No, making a salt/honey/vinegar/whatever mix and drinking it will not fix you up. No, zinc/copper/gold/germanium/silver/whatever will not fix you up. People are trying to make a quick buck off you, either by getting money for page views when you go to their site or watch their video, or by selling some kind of miracle cure that does absolutely nothing at best and can possibly make you sick when you’re not.
Don’t waste your time on those people – they’re parasites, and not the good kind like those little fish that stick to sharks and keep their skin clean. They’ve been around for thousands of years, peddling garbage to people who will try anything. They don’t have a cure and they don’t care about you. They just want your money.
So there you have it – that’s my take on this whole thing so far. I’m aware of it and have adjusted some of my behaviours a bit, but I’m not panicking or filling the basement with toilet paper and dried lentils. And you know what? For a guy who’s used to planning for the worst possible outcome, it feels good to be able to look at things rationally.