The Surprising, Surreal, Sad and Sudden Pandemic Age: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” — John Lennon

Covid-19 has brought the world to its collective knees.  The novel coronavirus pandemic that began as a few cases in China now has 3.38 million cases in 187 countries and regions around the globe, and the virus has killed more than 246,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Civilization is a shell of its once-vibrant self. Billions of people walking far apart from each other, streets closed, buldings and businesses shuttered, playgrounds empty.  We walk outside, dodging people. Our hands are getting a bit leather. Is there such a thing as too much hand washing. Apparently not. We start noticing the colors of masks, a feature of someone’s attire.  April was dubbed by the poet TS Eliot as the “cruelest month.” This month certainly lived up to Eliot’s description.

While most people try to stay away from each other, some may be afraid that others are getting too close. Many people are obeying the social distancing, but others, not so much. A bit of a crowd hanging outside the restaurant the other day. Too many people gathering around a friend and checking a phone at a park today. The line at the grocery store a bit unnerving. Many states are now opening up. Cringeworthy, I think. It is by maintaining our distance we enhance our shared connection: to overcome the disease. Hopefully, not death by impatience.

For people who struggle with their mental health, the pandemic can worsen their problems. Social isolation and loneliness may open the door to a range of mental health and physical issues from depression to heart disease. The isolation and uncertain well being is particularly hard for the poor, disadvantaged and the elderly.

Along with financial losses, many people are suffering emotionally from home confinement. They feel alone, frustrated and anxious.

Many of the same concerns envelop essential workers, especially those working in hospitals and public health, who face the challenges of having to protect themselves while working to save lives. Workers in construction or food services also go to work, despite the threat of infection.

During this time, it’s a priority for all of us to make time for self care. It’s important to reach out to friends and family, whether by phone or online. Humans are wired for connection, and we need our circle of support. Sleep, physical exercise and a healthy diet are also essential. Going for walks and participating in nature can help reduce stress, as does taking a break from the news.

In these ways, we can develop an inner core of strength and feel we have a sense of control. That’s important, because there is still much uncertainty ahead. Once we reopen for normal activities, people may go back to their old ways, only to find the coronavirus outbreak has flared up again.

We must prepare people for the social, physical and mental health consequences of another explosion of infections. While initial orders to stay at home arrived abruptly and unexpectedly, most people complied to protect themselves and their families. They may be less willing to do so once those policies have been relaxed.

Looking to the future, together

Even as we struggle with the day-to-day realities of the pandemic, we must also look ahead. The public health field has been preparing for the realities of the next pandemic for decades, with “it’s a matter of when, not if,” a long-common refrain among preparedness and infectious disease experts. Yet when COVID-19 arrived, it exposed the gaping holes in our plans. The situation shows the need for strong public health infrastructure, necessitating enough resources and systems to mitigate future problems.

We must examine our workforce to ensure there are proper allocations of labor for the needs of communities, particularly in health care. We must also pay attention to a global supply chain, where reliance on only a few countries for medical supplies, for instance, has proven to be reckless.

Ultimately, a science-based approach is necessary to prepare for what is ahead. We must include full and open participation from our most trustworthy messengers — scientists, public health professionals and medical officials — as we retool and strengthen our health systems to stave off more outbreaks like this one.

The speed in which COVID-19 spread from a few cases in a food market to communities across the world shows that we must act faster — without presumptions that we are immune from “far-off” contagions. With the next worldwide infection only a plane ride away, we must be prepared to come together without politics or prejudice to contain disease outbreaks as soon as they occur, wherever they occur.

No less than the future of humanity is at stake – Joe Cantlupe, Health Data Buzz.

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