Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dealing with the Minutiae of Covid

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

  Originally published at Medium in July 2020

By Alicia M Prater, PhD (Aliconia Publishing)

I can’t escape catching the headlines, and in my field of work this includes the latest scientific findings and the details of current medical concerns. So when a novel coronavirus started to make its way around the world, I noticed. When European countries started shutting down and Americans started dying, I noticed. When the timelines for my social media networks started to be obituary-heavy, I shut down and cried.

It was only April. 


I don’t work directly with patients, but in a supportive admin capacity, so I trudged forward somewhat selfishly, indulging in my curiosity and attempting to keep my own family healthy. I delved into the research as it was published. What works against the virus, what works with the virus, what counts as a risk factor…the answers change as we learn more and, after awhile, it starts to get overwhelming. There is simply so much we don’t know. The safest course is to just avoid the virus. We all know how that’s going.

I’ve been in self-isolation since mid-March. I started planning for it in late February. I go out for groceries every 10 days or so, wearing my mask, hand sanitizer at the ready, and I don’t interact with anyone if I can help it. Other errands are done only if needed and with the same precautions. I keep up with local infection stats released by the State Health Dept. to judge the risk. Luckily, I live in a relatively unscathed area of the country. I don’t want this virus. I don’t want anyone I know to go through the worst case scenario of this virus. I read, and so I know it’s horrible. 

I used to lecture on infectious diseases to graduate students. I’ve written and lectured on HIV/AIDS. I went through a few-year period when I was obsessed with the intricacies of hemorrhagic fevers. Prion diseases have fascinated me since undergrad, when they were still new to the medical establishment. Yet, the reality of facing what is currently at the door has me overwhelmed with its significance. Probably because this isn’t theory — it’s happening in front of me.

Anyone who has been taking COVID-19 seriously is likely tired and overwhelmed by now. If we (as an entire populace) had done what was necessary early on, we could have limited the fallout. Now though, we’re stuck in the middle of it, facing the long-term consequences for which we can’t even fathom the right questions to ask. We could be looking at decades of unknown changes to our society. Best case scenario, a lot more people die. It’s simply overwhelming how all-powerful this one tiny little virus is in our lives.

I’ve had to stop reading studies on the details of SARS-CoV-2. Whether it’s mutating, or what proteins it binds, or whether a vaccine candidate induces a T-cell response, or whether it arrived in January or February from Europe or China…none of that matters to me specifically right now. I’ve had to admit that it’s all outside the scope of my ability to process what’s going on. There is just too much information to process while also attempting to utilize it to keep safe.

The minutiae became a mountain that I simply cannot traverse.

So for now, I keep it simple — avoid the virus. No breathing other people’s air, washing my hands after touching outside surfaces, no unnecessary risks, and don’t get caught up in the details. At least not until there’s something I can do about them.

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