Dealing With Conflicting Guidance on COVID-19? Here’s What I’m Doing.

A near empty L train in Chicago Thursday morning. Probably my last trip for a while.

Let’s just get it out there: This whole virus thing is overwhelming. It’s clear that the next couple of weeks are going to bring major changes to our lives, and that some amount of people are going to get sick and even die. Taking this in and accepting that it is our new reality – this is really what is happening in our world, there is no place to hide – is a difficult pill to swallow.

There has been a lot of conflicting guidance on how much we should be isolating ourselves. In Chicago, where I live, schools have been closed, the park district is limiting activities, and casinos are closed, yet the bars in Wrigleyville are still hosting St. Patrick’s Day bar crawls. I happened to visit my doctor for my annual physical Thursday, and she told me to avoid public transit, restaurants and other places with crowds, and to stay home as much as I can. Yet, the CDC is not telling people to stay home, but to merely “put distance between yourself and other people” by keeping six feet away from others.

Making the acceptance of that reality worse, is that many of us, including me, deal with adversity through action, and the stark reality is that there isn’t much you can do to fight this virus, in fact the best thing to do is to NOT do things. Don’t touch things. Don’t visit people. Don’t go places. Just don’t.

It seems that in absence of federal leadership – for instance the President publicly asking epidemiologists what to do and then following that guidance – every state and city has been creating their own rules. Schools are closed in Chicago and Los Angeles, but not in New York City or Houston. What gives?

News from China and Europe suggest that the more you shutdown and the more you test the less the virus spreads. Italy didn’t begin shutdowns and mass testing until hundreds had died. Now, their health system is overwhelmed. Spain, which had a 160,000 person rally in Madrid just last weekend, has now been declared the new European virus epicenter. South Korea and Singapore have conducted mass testing for weeks to identify virus carriers and as a result it seems they are avoiding the worst outbreaks.

China is just now beginning to report significant declines in new cases, and last week Wuhan celebrated the closure of all temporary hospitals. That means it took about eleven weeks for China to get to its inflection point, the point when cases began to decline rather than increase. It seems the U.S. is only about two weeks into the virus, and we’re not doing nearly as much testing and quarantining as China. So, it seems that the best scenario would be that the U.S will be dealing with COVID-19 through at least July. That’s a long, long time.

For now, my family and I are planning to do the following:

  1. Work from home, school from home.
  2. Avoid restaurants, bars, and gatherings of more than a handful of people at a time.
  3. Limit grocery store and pharmacy trips (they seem like natural vectors)
  4. Cut visits to seniors that are friends and family.
  5. No more gym and swimming pool visits.
  6. Avoid public transit and rideshare when possible.
  7. Wash hands every time we enter a new building. Wipe down door knobs, phones and car steering wheel.

This seems like an impossible list to maintain for a few days, let alone a couple weeks or a couple months. I’m not sure how we’re going to do it.