The New Normal
Presented by Dr. MZ, this column, which will appear weekly, is intended to help all of us do our part in combating this virus and saving lives.
By now everyone is familiar with the pillars of combating the coronavirus pandemic: Wash your hands, stay 6 feet apart from others (physical distancing), and don’t touch your face. Knowing these concepts isn’t hard; implementing them well is truly challenging. We must do these things while we buy time to gain knowledge about effective therapies and, even more importantly, we gain time to craft and test a vaccine that might render many people immune to this virus without contracting the illness.
This column, which will appear weekly, is intended to help all of us do our part in combating this virus and saving lives. It’s possible that the life you save, adhering to these principles, might be your own. So, listen up, as they say in the Navy! I will do my best to provide scientific, credible, well-thought-out, data-driven (where available) information and advice. I will never advocate a position that I wouldn’t follow myself. Conversely, if I recommend against something, I won’t be following it either.
What is the new normal? The new normal means that the many ways in which we have previously interacted are now closed to us. No more direct conversations or meetings or gatherings, no more handshakes or hugs and kisses for friends and acquaintances, no more in-your-face interactions. I had a conversation with a friend the other day. I found myself slowly stepping away from her as she talked. As I stepped away, she kept stepping towards me. She had forgotten about physical distancing. I didn’t hold it against her; I know it’s hard.
We are social animals and we like interacting with each other. We like it best when we can see each other’s faces and body language. For the moment we can’t, so for whatever period of time that we have to endure this pandemic, how can we feel more comfortable? I offer the following suggestions:
- Establish a new routine. To borrow an admonition from ADM William McRaven*, make your bed every day. You will feel better after you have done so. Go outside and enjoy Mother Nature. The weather has been beautiful; take advantage of it. Smile at the people you see, at a distance of 6 feet. If you go hiking and there are too many people for physical distancing at 6 feet, leave and find some more solitary place to walk.
- Find ways to get exercise. I dug out an old Jane Fonda workout DVD and the young Jane (1982) is leaving me breathless. Look up workout videos on YouTube. Find ways to get 150 minutes of exercise per week. Jog in place, do jumping jacks. Go up and down the stairs, lift weights. Do something every day to assure that your fitness doesn’t deteriorate.
- Get online. Create a Facebook page if you don’t already have one. Friend other people. Engage them in friendly, constructive interaction. Open an Instagram account and post pictures of your best ideas. FaceTime with your friends and family. They are probably lonely too. If you are really brave, open a Twitter account and watch the unvarnished, unfiltered news as it happens minute by minute with all its warts and controversies. The new normal is that we will be communicating for the foreseeable future using technology and social media. I am not suggesting that social media are perfect but they are what we have and using social media doesn’t transmit coronavirus but does keep relationships alive.
- Sign up for vote-by-mail. There is no guarantee that this pandemic will be over by November 2020. COVID-19 may still be a threat and physical distancing measures may still be in place at the time of the election. Your vote is important. Sign up now so that your vote is sure to be counted in November.
What are things we should NOT do?
- Don’t ignore the advice of our public health officials. These people are trained to handle pandemic situations. They are working incredibly hard. We are up against a serious foe. Do what they ask of us. Don’t congregate in any place: trailheads, hiking paths, beaches, piers, the Tidal Basin, somebody else’s back yard, parties……..you get the picture.
- Don’t travel. You might become ill during your travels and not have access to good medical care. You certainly don’t want to get on an airplane, packed into a cylindrical metal tube cheek by jowl with hundreds of other people, some of whom may be ill. Don’t even think about a cruise. That could result in getting sick in a floating prison with a bad air handling system. Not a good idea.
- Don’t turn to alcohol. Alcohol is not the answer to this problem. I see way too many people talking about stocking up on wine or whatever martini they are going to use to ride out this pandemic. Every second-year medical student learns in Pathology that alcohol is a straight-up liver toxin. There is no amount of alcohol that is not toxic to the liver. Fortunately, livers can be fairly resilient most of the time. But no one would want to begin struggling to survive COVID-19 with a previously injured liver. Be kind to your liver.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, quit now! Avoid second-hand smoke. Damaged lungs do exceedingly poorly when infected with coronavirus.
- Don’t spend time worrying about getting COVID-19 from cardboard boxes. The probability of this is infinitesimal. The lab data show that the virus is no longer viable beyond 24 hours on cardboard. That’s in the lab under optimal conditions which include trying to grow the virus in very nutritive viral culture media. The likelihood that you would get COVID-19 from a cardboard box that arrived from Amazon after being in the hot dry truck for many hours to days is nil. None of us rubs cardboard boxes on our mucous membranes (nose, eyes, mouth). Do wash your hands after handling a box and don’t touch your face while you are handling the box. Again, the pillars of combating this pandemic.
I will write a separate column about masks as masks are a long, involved, and controversial subject.
Feel free to send questions and concerns about COVID-19 and this pandemic to healthcare [at] LWV-PA.org. They will be collated and addressed in future columns; individual answers to individual questioners will not be provided. Please stay safe and don’t forget to wash your hands, stay 6 feet away from others, and, as much as humanly possible, don’t touch your face.
Dr. Margan Zajdowicz is the Co-Chair of the League of Women Voters-Pasadena Area Healthcare Committee and a retired infectious disease physician who spent many years in clinical practice and emergency preparedness and pandemic planning for the US Navy. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Maryland School Of Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree from Old Dominion University/Eastern Virginia School of Medicine.