We may seldom step outside the box of our reality to notice, but over the past three decades, there have been major focusing events that have changed the way we live our lives. From 9/11 to Covid-19, we can no longer say such events we have only read about in our history books. We’ve actually lived through these events that have changed our lives and for future generations to come. For the past five months during this Covid-19 pandemic, Public Health measures to prevent infection spread, that have existed with the public being unaware of them, now form the basis on which we live our lives. It is indeed an uncomfortable position to exist in, but if we do not learn from this experience, mankind’s future looks quite bleak.
Currently, the non-pharmaceutical measure of social/physical distancing dictates the way we conduct our day to day business. They were implemented before the closure of non-essential business and continued into lockdown. Recently, they have begun to be rollbacked back. Keeping our fingers crossed, for the sake of continued opening up the economy, there have been no new cases of Covid-19 and deaths have remained at eight, over the past month. However, authorities warn that it would be some time before things return to normal if they ever do, and at best, a “new normal” will have to be adjusted to, based on social distancing measures.
Social distancing measures may seem a bit extreme now. But, in fact, some semblance of these should exist during flu season as guided by public education from public health officials and the Ministry of Health (MOH). Washing hands regularly, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched areas and keeping away from sick individuals, are not new measures, and are established measures that are effective to prevent contracting the common cold during flu season. We must remember the vulnerable individuals highlighted during this Covid-19 pandemic are also vulnerable to complications and death if they also contract the flu. With the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, those of us in healthcare hope that a behaviour change would be achieved for the better. Better hygiene practices would mean reduced morbidity and mortality from the flu and less cost to the state in the long run.
The fact is that Covid-19 will not disappear. Until we get a vaccine, it is here to stay at some level of incidence and prevalence in the international population. We know its morbidity and mortality rate, which is more than the flu, can cost us resources and lives if it is allowed to get out of control. So, the aim of flattening the curve still remains our best defence. Even though in T&T there seems to be no increase in prevalence and a current approximate incidence rate of zero, healthcare authorities are being very cautious not to tip the scales. Covid-19 is highly contagious. All it takes is one cough or sneeze by an infected person to begin an exponential spread within a context absent of social distancing. Tipping the scales means exponential spread that puts our healthcare capacity at risk of being overwhelmed.
Thus, social distancing remains the order of the day:
Avoid venturing out if possible
Wear a face mask when you are in the public
Keep six feet away from others in public
Don’t gather or congregate
This dictates our actions if we have to be at work, during shopping or conducting any business that requires us to leave home. Long lines of people with individuals wearing face masks and being six feet apart have become the norm at groceries, restaurants, banks, public utility offices and other places of business. It is difficult to tell how far in the future this will last. But it remains a “new normal” nonetheless that reduces the likelihood of spread.
One industry seriously affected is travel. Even though in T&T the situation seems to be looking positive regarding spread, we must remember that we exist in a global community where the experience may not be the same. Opening up our borders remains one of the last social distancing measures to be lifted depending on the international situation with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. T&T is a society where the working class has become accustomed to affordable holiday deals that are part of our culture. Unfortunately, with the current pandemic and no sight of its end, staycations may be the “new norm”. Even these in themselves have been redefined. Part of a tropical lifestyle, especially around this time of year is going out to beaches, hikes, walks, visiting our sister isle, going out for a meal etc. With the implementation of social distancing, we see our world getting smaller and smaller due to our limited access. However, we have found ourselves at home with more time to spend with family and more time to bond. Social distancing measures have forced us to be with each other and centre our lives around this due to necessity. However, it depends on our living situation, our existing family relationships and individual personalities whether these conditions may be therapeutic or detrimental to our well-being.
It is said that there is a silver lining in every cloud and necessity is the mother of invention. During this pandemic cloud, we have been forced, out of necessity, to work from home, conduct meetings using online platforms and communicate with distant loved ones via social media and conference calls. This has led to people being more productive, reconnecting with family abroad, reduced traffic on the roads, reduced pollution, decentralization, reduction in stress (a major social determinant of health) and mindfulness in the situation of gloom. These have formed major components of our “new normal” and if anything, are more healthy behaviour changes compared to what we have practised previously. The Covid-19 pandemic may not be the best situation for humanity, but maybe it is the awakening we needed to step out of the box and really look at the direction in which our lives are headed.
Dr Visham Bhimull
Primary Care Physician
Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)