Op/Ed

Editorial: Elbow bumps and air hugs

Life will be a bit different for the next few months as we move through what will become known as the Coronavirus pandemic. Medical experts are predicting that 40 percent to 70 percent of Americans will become infected with the virus. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted that 80 percent of Germans will be infected with the virus.
Those are alarming numbers that should make everyone take notice. It is not, as President Trump has maintained for the past several weeks, no big deal. It’s precisely that pig-headed notion and rejection of scientific and medical evidence that has put this country behind in its preparation. And it has been his idiotic practice of defunding health care measures by executive order (see commentary by local pediatrician Jack Mayer, MD) that has hampered the nation’s ability to respond more effectively. Government plays an important role in protecting the public health, despite the Republican practice of demonizing all things government-run.
Contrary to Trump’s misinformation campaign, and the Republican Party’s lame defense of it, this virus is a big deal. But panic is not a useful response. The death rate is between 1 percent and 3 percent of those who contract the virus. That’s high by flu standards, but let’s keep it in perspective. It’s also been reported by the Chinese authorities that 80 percent of the cases they experienced were considered mild, even as that definition might mean significant discomfort and more serious illnesses for some.
WHAT TO DO?
In the U.S., what every state, county, local community, friends-network and resident needs to first do is understand the risks, implement measures that mitigate transfer of the virus, and work our way through this pandemic together — always considering what is most beneficial for the larger community.
Middlebury College acted on that belief this week by cancelling classes after Friday for the next two weeks (as part of an expanded spring break) and then holding classes remotely this spring until further notice. It is hugely inconvenient for students as well as the Middlebury College staff and faculty, and has a negative short-term impact on the local economy, but it’s a proactive move meant to limit the spread of the virus in a tight-knit, densely populated community — that would, no doubt, have hastened the spread of the virus throughout the larger Middlebury community had that action not been taken.
The Addison Independent has compiled several stories in today’s issue that report on other news relating to the virus, including what local schools are thinking; plans at Porter Hospital; myths about the virus and a local doctor’s commentary on the issue. We’ll follow these stories with more on Monday and next Thursday, looking at the economic impact of these decisions and we’ll re-emphasis what all doctors are advising to stay as healthy as possible: wash-wash-wash your hands, try not to touch your face, practice social distancing, don’t go to work or mix with the larger community if you’re feeling flu-like symptoms, and avoid congregating in larger crowds.
REMOTE WORKING
In the meantime, businesses would be well advised to make plans for remote working, if possible, and contingency plans for how to conduct each part of your business with key employees missing. For those businesses without sick pay policies in place, try to develop ways for employees to work remotely if they need to be quarantined for 14 days (to take care of a child or loved one, for example) and how your business will function in that capacity. What the business community must put into place now (before the virus spreads further) are measures that encourage employees who have been exposed to the virus not to come to the workplace and expose others. That also means that employees need to be assured they will receive pay working from home. (Hopefully the Vermont Legislature and/or Congress will also provide financial assistance to help make that possible for all.)
“Social distancing” has been the new buzzword these past couple of weeks because of its effectiveness in limiting transmission of the virus. That means limited (or no) touching among non-family members; standing a meter or more away from another when conversing; not coughing into your hands (try your elbow or shoulder) and better yet, go home and get tested as soon as possible if your cough is persistent; and, again, avoid crowds.
That means athletic competitions (for schools and the college) may be cancelled or held without fans; it’s means music recitals or school plays may be postponed or cancelled; and it means we’ll be doing a lot more elbow bumps instead of handshakes, and air hugs instead of embraces — and definitely avoid the French practice of kissing each other on each cheek. We’ll just have to save such pleasures for another day.
In the meantime, read as much as you can about the virus and best practices to stay healthy. Keep informed, don’t fall for medical gimmicks (no, drinking a silver-based tonic promoted by televangelist Jim Bakker won’t help, and do know that he is being prosecuted for advertising that it would) and approach this pandemic with all due caution. But don’t let it cast a dark cloud over your life. We can talk on the phone more, Skype, and, of course, still visit in small groups in which everyone is cognizant of the risks involved and takes appropriate precautions.
If we’re virus-free, we can go out to dinner, attend small meetings and carry on with our lives. The bottom line is this: The smarter and more diligent we are as a community, the healthier and happier we’ll be — but that all starts with being well-informed. Please read, learn and put that information into practice. We’ll all be better for it.
Angelo Lynn

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