Have you heard that more and more? I have heard both of those statements a lot more lately. There’s a few problems with these statements though – especially because it makes people put down their guards and makes people feel like it’s inevitable to just get sick. It’s not inevitable and you can protect yourself and your family and others around you. But, you need a different game plan right now.
✅ Think of masking as umbrellas against the storm of COVID-19. These tried-and-true public health precautions of masking, distancing, loving our neighbors work, but only we we do them together.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟏 – What we have needed to do all along. This is what loving our neighbors looks like in an ideal world.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟐 – A few months ago, the US looked like PICTURE 2. Infection and hospitalization rates were climbing, but steady. So your “umbrella” worked relatively well.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟑 – This is what the US looks like now. What we are seeing now are consequences of collective inaction. So, if you feel like masks aren’t working, it is because the storm is too big. This is catching many people off-guard and some are wondering how they got “wet”. It’s because we are in Picture 3. We need a different strategy. If we can’t rely on people to collectively protect one another, how do we protect ourselves, our families, and our communities as much as we can? 𝐋𝐞𝐭 𝐦𝐞 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐏𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝟑 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐬 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐬𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐩𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐭𝐢𝐩𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐨 𝐡𝐮𝐧𝐤𝐞𝐫 𝐝𝐨𝐰𝐧. I don’t want to scare you. I do want to help you prepare for reality.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟒 – “I always wore a mask and still got COVID-19.” Did you go to a place where people weren’t wearing a mask? A store to shop? An indoor restaurant/bar? A church service where masking is optional and based on comfort levels? A gym where people take them off? Around your grandkids who hung out with friends the week before? That’s the RED line in Picture 4. That’s doing what we are doing right now and letting masks be a personal choice based on comfort. Look at what January/February looks if we keep doing that. You are I both know that people are not wearing them correctly when they should or taking them off to prove something in defiance.
—Look at the blue line – It will take a while for us to have enough vaccines to feel any relief.
—Now look at the green line. Our BEST defense until vaccines become widely available is universal masking and distancing. Masks work – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Believe the science on this. They work and are one of our best defenses right now. But only when we wear them correctly, together. People have not been doing that – which is why it looks like the “umbrellas” don’t work. I just will never understand why masks and precautions are about people’s comfort level. I know many of you feel the same way. They are just a piece of cloth. Masks do not show fear. Masks are not indicators of communism, socialism, anti-nationalism, or social conditioning. They are reflections of what we think about one another and how well we value loving our neighbors.
—Pictures 5, 6, and 7 are the result of not doing that – remember the red line in Picture 4? The result of that are the following pictures. Then we will end this post with my advice for a new game plan.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟓 – There’s a disconnect with people right now on how bad things are. Cases are increasing exponentially, not a slow-trickle-increase – a steep-slope-increase: 36% increase in the South, 30% in the West. These increases are a 7-day average which are ON TOP of the surges from the last few weeks. Think of this as compounding effects of a storm surge. Or of Picture 3 instead of Picture 2. These are cases – so, we can expect hospitalizations and deaths to follow 2-4 weeks after.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟔- December was the deadliest month we have had so far with 57,638 people dying (that count in the picture stopped December 23rd – so the number will be close to 80,000 deaths by the time December ends). Want to know how many people died of influenza last year in 2019 in December? Between 700 and 1,700 people.
𝐏𝐈𝐂𝐓𝐔𝐑𝐄 𝟕 – The week before Christmas was the deadliest week in the pandemic for long-term care facilities and nursing homes. 6,000 deaths were reported. In a week. Among our families in nursing homes. ⭐⭐ All data indications point to this being the middle of the storm surge. January will look worse, unfortunately, because of holidays (nearly 1 million people flew on Christmas Eve) and wide-spread pandemic fatigue. I wish I could say things were going to look different. But, I want you to be prepared for what’s to come. I feel like I’ve been saying that for weeks now. All of us have. Now is not the time to loosen your resolve. The normal “‘umbrellas” won’t work. If we use the storm analogy – You need to get inside, hunker down, board up the windows, and watch some great movies. Play games, read good books, or do puzzles. Reign your activities in until the storm passes. Hunker down. It will pass, I promise you that. But, please don’t pretend like we are in Picture 1 or 2 anymore.
Here’s my advice on how to weather the storm:
⭐⭐ 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐚𝐦𝐞-𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐧
✅ 1. Avoid shopping indoors, restaurants indoors (even with high ceilings that do no good in an enclosed space), to the gym indoors (high ceiling don’t matter here either), church indoors, or events indoors. Unless everyone is wearing a mask all the time. If you have to go to the store, make a list and try to go early. Even if you wear a mask, you will very likely be around people who do not wear them or will wear them incorrectly. It’s not worth the risk right now with the US looking like Picture 3. Does this feel like you are over-reacting? Then you are doing what you should be doing. Do take-out, join services online, do a work-out video at home.
✅ 2. Tighten your bubble – with friends and family. This is the time to reign in your precautions really tight, tighter than you have before. I’m hearing stories of grandmas (who are vigilant in wearing masks) keep a grandkid one time and get sick. Or families who met one time for a quick meal, and many got sick. It’s because we are in Picture 3. This will be hard for many of you, especially during the holidays. This is not forever.
✅ 3. Don’t get on an airplane – Can you trust people to wear a mask correctly? Even with the best air filtration systems, it’s really risky. I read stories of people who have just gotten over COVID-19 and flew to see family with their kids, who could very likely be carriers. I also hear people who buy food in the airport so they can take their masks off to eat – they eat the candy very slowly to keep the masks off. Do you trust people? I don’t.
✅ 4. Can you trust people right now to not break quarantine/isolation? I see people (you probably do too) that are breaking quarantine because they feel fine at day 6. Even though they are a mild case, they can still be contagious at day 6. So, can their kids. Their kids can also get sick on day 6, and then the clock starts over for the 10-14 days or when people should be isolating/quarantining. Do you trust people to do that correctly? I don’t. Others may not even know they or their kids are sick. So, it’s risky to rely on other’s behaviors right now with cases being wide-spread (symptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and asymptomatic cases). This isn’t about shaming people. I just want you to be aware of the risks.
✅ 5. Just say no. And then, protect yourself against FOMOscrolling. =) When you say no to an event and feel left out, put on a good movie and distract yourself until the storm passes. This will feel uncomfortable. But we are in the middle of a storm with howling winds and pelting rain. The comfort of being safe inside is better than outside in the storm. It’s ok to say no.
✅ 6. Lastly, I have a hunch that some are mad, scared, frustrated, fill-in-the-blank emotion right now that we are here. Many of us epidemiologists are simply mad right now. Frustrated we (the US) are where we are because it could have been so different with a nationally coordinated plan and collective, individual efforts. But, we are here. Do you feel trapped because you’ve been doing everything right while others are not? If you do, there are many others like you. Reach out to a friend or a doctor if you need help. Unfriend certain people on facebook (or at least snooze them) if they make you angry. =) Try yoga, walking, new podcasts to make you laugh. Hunkering down means protecting your mental health too – especially right now at 9 months into the pandemic. Do what you need to do to weather through January or until you can get a vaccine. Make a game plan for your mental health – that will be really important as we brace for post-holiday surges.
⭐⭐ Hunker down.
If you want to take a deep-dive into how we got here, see this: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/09/coronavirus-american-failure/614191/
I also wrote several past posts on this too – see the Table O’ Contents.
-Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
***A note about case counts: You will likely see cases “dip” in the reporting. This is artificial though because most states are not reporting during the holidays. Be cautious in feeling better about those dips. They are not real and will catch us by surprise when the reporting starts coming in again.
Pictures 5, 6, and 7 – https://covidtracking.com/analysis-updates/deadliest-month-yet-pandemic-regional-again-dec-23 2019 flu season: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm