Is All This Really Happening?

As April began, more than 277,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus and 6,600 people had died from COVID-19 in the United States. Worldwide, deaths now exceeded 57,000.

It was estimated that 80 percent of the people infected with the virus would recover without needing special treatment, but the other 20 percent would become seriously ill and many would require hospitalization. Too many would die a horrible death. Unable to breathe on their own, they would be put into an induced coma, intubated and hooked to a ventilator, with the weak hope that their ravaged bodies would still be strong enough to fight off the virus.

As an “older person” (over 65), I was at higher risk of severe illness if the virus were to get to me. The last place in the world I wanted to be was in a hospital. Fortunately, I did not have any of the underlying medical conditions that would make a person even more vulnerable to life-threatening illness. Still, it was unnerving to be an older person–a cohort that some whippersnappers called “elderly.” Good God.

Our best defense was to hide from the virus: stay home, stay safe. When it was necessary to go out, we were told to practice “social distancing”—keeping at least 6 feet away from other people. We were advised to wash our hands a lot. Our hands could betray us by straying to our face, mouth and nose, possibly transporting a little gang of coronaviri to our respiratory tract where it would soon grow into a larger gang and quickly into an army.

Whether we should wear home-made cloth facemasks was a hot topic. The answer was complicated. The mask would not protect the wearer from the tiny virus itself, which could penetrate most fabric face coverings. But a mask would filter moisture droplets exhaled by the wearer, droplets that could carry the virus to another person. You could be symptom-free and yet have the virus and potentially spread it to others. Wearing a mask was less about self-protection and more about showing care for other people.

Because the country was not prepared for a pandemic, masks that could block the virus (N-95 masks) were in short supply, and available N-95 masks were rightly being reserved for hospital personnel, who were risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients.

We did all of the things that we were advised to do. In the past month, I had left the house only to go to the grocery store (once a week) or to take walks (daily). I felt that maintaining my health and strength was my last best defense against the virus, and daily walks were part of that health-maintenance regimen. I rarely encountered other humans on my walks, and I was careful to social distance from them.

My isolation at home was not total. I was blessed to share the solitude with my wife. We were thankful for each other’s company, and spending time away from other people was not a big change in our life-style. And yet, isolation was more difficult than it looked. On the surface, physical isolation was not difficult. Our home was our refuge, but I felt besieged. I could not psychologically isolate.

I could not make it through a day without knowing the latest coronavirus news. What the virus had done to the world was frightening. When the pandemic would end was unknowable, and the end would not come any time soon. I knew that it was months away. Estimates were that it would be at least a year before an effective vaccine would be available.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated that the “end” of the “current wave” of the pandemic in the United States would come in early June, defining the “end” as the soonest that carnage from COVID-19 would drop below 10 deaths per day. Meanwhile, we would reach the peak of the wave (3,130 deaths in a day) on April 16.

The IHME projections assumed that everyone would maintain recommended social distancing and other precautions against spreading the virus. And there could be a second wave ahead: “By end the of the first wave of the epidemic, an estimated 97% of the population of the United States will still be susceptible to the disease, so avoiding reintroduction of COVID-19 through mass screening, contact tracing, and quarantine will be essential to avoid a second wave.”

The IHME estimated that 81,800 people, possibly many more, would die in the US by the end of the current wave.

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