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I wonder though, if in trying to suppress it, are we allowing this virus — which is the antithesis of humanity — to win anyway? To me, the biggest threat of SARS-CoV-2 is not its virulence, it is the way it slowly erodes what it means to be human.
First it took away touch and that delicious proximity of a spontaneous hug. Then it took away social gatherings and shared meals. Now with mandatory masks we even lose the warming delight of a smile shared with a stranger. Crinkling eyes at them when they are about to pass just doesn’t seem right.
In the hospital, this loss is even more glaring. I still remember in May, the catharsis of hugging the nurse who helped me look after a patient who deteriorated unexpectedly. Now we stand apart, in silence, shielded from each other by layers of PPE which also trap in the emotions. Our eyes desperately try to communicate the stress, which is only released when, at the end of a shift, alone, we change out of our scrubs into civilian clothes.
In the patients’ eyes, the isolation is intense. Rules have been put in place to curtail the spread. No visitors are allowed.
The first sick Covid patient I managed in emergency, an older man, refused intensive care when it became clear that his family would not be permitted to stay with him. His son implored the intensive care team to allow him to stay, and for a long time we stood by the rules for the greater good. The panic settled on the patient’s face and didn’t dissipate until his son agreed to take him home.
In nursing homes as well, patients haven’t seen their families for months. If video chats are soulless to us, how must it feel to say goodbye via video link? A young doctor’s voice broke as she described her day to me, going from one sick or dying patient’s room to another with her iPad, digitally connecting the patients to their relatives at home and witnessing over and over the families fall apart with grief.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 27, 2020
What should I consider when choosing a mask?
- There are a few basic things to consider. Does it have at least two layers? Good. If you hold it up to the light, can you see through it? Bad. Can you blow a candle out through your mask? Bad. Do you feel mostly OK wearing it for hours at a time? Good. The most important thing, after finding a mask that fits well without gapping, is to find a mask that you will wear. Spend some time picking out your mask, and find something that works with your personal style. You should be wearing it whenever you’re out in public for the foreseeable future. Read more: What’s the Best Material for a Mask?
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, though some people don’t show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and received supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
This is why, despite the risk, I still see my father who is in his 70s and has Parkinson’s disease and heart problems. When the doctor in me advocated for isolation, he told me firmly that if he is to die from Covid, he would rather catch it from me. Ever the Buddhist, he says: “We will all die, it just may be sooner because of the virus.”