Opinion: Commentary: Our New Normal

Opinion: Commentary: Our New Normal

What we do this week and next week will make a big difference to ensure we do not overwhelm our healthcare system.

The world sure doesn’t look anything like it did only a few short weeks ago. It has only been a little over one week since Governor Northam issued his 90-day stay-at-home order, but it feels like it has been much longer. The most important thing that I must emphasize is that we have not yet reached the peak of COVID-19 here in Virginia. The estimated timeline for this peak is still uncertain, but ranges anywhere from late April at the most optimistic, to late May. This changes daily as we learn more, and unfortunately, we just don’t have the necessary testing capabilities to provide better data.

What is certain is that this is a critical time period in our fight against COVID-19, and what we do this week and next week will make a big difference in whether we are able to “flatten the curve” in Virginia to ensure we do not overwhelm our healthcare system. I am going to highlight and reemphasize steps we should all be taking to pitch in to this effort, which thankfully, so many people are already doing to stop the spread.

The most important of these is to stay at home unless it is absolutely essential to go out. Limiting interactions with other people is the best way to stop the spread. If you must go out for an essential purpose, such as to purchase groceries or to care for a loved one, practice social distancing and remain at least 6 feet apart from anyone you encounter, and even further apart if possible. Sneezes and coughs can travel more than six feet. Being apart from friends and loved ones is difficult and heartbreaking, especially in a crisis like this. But, we must make this sacrifice in order to protect each other. I know it is not as easy as it sounds, and for many that live alone it can be very difficult and even depressing, but it is for the best, not just for you, but for all of us. I know many of us are calling our single neighbors and friends. It can also be hard on those larger families too. I have my very fragile, elderly parents living with me and my family and that has its own challenges, but it is a blessing too. My mother has taught my daughter how to knit and we have now a number of new scarves. Other families are challenged by the loss of a job, their new homeschooling roles, balancing work at home with taking care of loved ones, some that may be ill. And, then there are many of you who are essential workers and are out on the front lines dealing with anxiety and health concerns. Every one of us has a unique circumstance and yet we must all try our best to stay optimistic and hopeful at the same time as we socially isolate ourselves.

Once again, I know this sounds like a broken record, but we must practice good personal hygiene. You should avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If you cough or sneeze, cover it with a tissue and then immediately throw it in the trash. It is also important to disinfect your belongings, clothes, and groceries when you return from trips to the grocery store. You can use disinfectant wipes to wipe down each item purchased before putting away, and wash fresh fruit and vegetables with soap and water.

As each day goes by, researchers are hard at work learning new things about the virus that will help us in our fight. Now, the CDC is urging everyone to wear a cloth mask in public. They have learned that people are most infectious when they are first infected and have few or no symptoms. Wearing a face covering in public during this time can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. These face coverings do not have to be medical grade. They can be as simple as a scarf or bandana covering the nose and mouth. There are several tutorials floating around online with ideas and techniques to create face masks at home.

As Virginians, and as a nation, we are resilient and adaptive, and I have no doubt that we will take these new recommendations in stride and make the best of them. We will get through this together, but separated in our homes.