By Marvin Druger
I am writing this article a few days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo put New York state under lockdown because of the escalating coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus -2 (SARS-Co-V-2).
As you all know, the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 apparently started in a marketplace in Wuhan, China. A mutation occurred in a coronavirus that enabled the virus to jump from an animal species to a human. Coronaviruses are a cause of the common cold and other respiratory illnesses. This new variety of coronavirus was never before observed in humans, so there was little innate immunity.
The virus could be spread by person-to-person contact and on contaminated surfaces and it spread rapidly around the world. No vaccine or drug was available to fight the disease. Many deaths have occurred, especially elderly people with compromised immune systems, but the disease can be fatal to people at any age.
At this time, there are severe shortages of medical facilities and supplies to combat this disease. Major restrictions have been placed on people all over the world. The approach to slowing the spread of the coronavirus involves social distancing, thorough and frequent hand-washing with soap and water or a 70% alcohol-based hand sanitizers, keeping hands away from your face, since the virus can enter the body through your eyes, nose or mouth, and practicing rigorous hygiene. It is recommended that we stay at least six feet apart and avoid handshaking and other physical contacts, as well as wiping down surfaces that we touch.
In my opinion, social distancing has been happening for many years. Instead of talking to another person face-to-face, the modern generation prefers text-messaging or facetiming. We can talk to each other through social media, and that puts us far beyond the six feet of distance recommended by current coronavirus guidelines. Paradoxically, we are more in touch with each other than ever before through social media; yet, we have grown more apart physically because of social media.
Humans are social animals. How can we cope with social distancing? As a professor emeritus, I talk a lot and am accustomed to personally interacting with countless numbers of people. Now, because of the novel coronavirus, I have to stay at home for the indefinite future. We are all faced with changing our habits and behavior, perhaps for the rest of our lives.
Our first reaction to this pandemic was fear and panic. We raced to the supermarkets to stock up on food, toilet paper, medicines and other necessities. Restaurants are now closed, but are offering take-out service and deliveries. Supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential service places are open, but all else is closed. When I went to the supermarket a few days ago, there were zero paper goods on the shelves. There were restrictions on how many of particular items could be purchased. The panic lead to hoarding, but I realized that the stores would soon be restocked.
We each had to figure out how to spend the day in this new, COVID-19 world. The feeling was similar to what I experienced when my dear wife, Pat, passed away in 2014. She did everything for me. Whenever she asked me to do any chore around the house, I would tell her, “I’m paid to think.” Then, after her death, I had to learn how to do these things for myself. I had to learn how to handle finances and the everyday chores that Pat took care of. I learned how to do laundry and how to turn on the microwave and how to use the dishwasher. Now, because of the coronavirus, I have to establish a whole new set of behaviors. This is true for everyone.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, I led a very active social life. I worked out at Metro Fitness health club at least three mornings a week, gave campus tours at Syracuse University, conducted a Frontiers of Science program for high school students, did a radio program “(Science on the Radio)” on WAER-FM 88.3, interacted with my family, traveled widely with my companion, Victoria, and was involved in other activities. Now what? Like everyone else, I am in the process of figuring out what to do with my confined time at home.
Exercise should be a regular part of everyone’s life. There is an overabundance of research that supports the need for regular exercise for our physical and mental well-being. Since my health club is closed, I had to modify my exercise routine. Now, I do stretching motions each morning, lift free weights and do 100 sit-ups. There are exercise programs on the web that I could take advantage of. I take a shower after exercising, and I maintain that this is the best part of the routine.
There are countless household tasks that need to be done, but were never attended to. Now, is a good time to do them. Cleaning, sorting through family albums, emptying closets, cleaning out the refrigerator, etc. In my refrigerator and freezer, I found items that were many years out of date. No wonder they didn’t taste good.
Many people can occupy themselves watching TV. Generally, I minimize watching TV, but it seems necessary to keep up with the latest news about the pandemic. If TV is your preference, there is enough variety on TV to keep you busy much of the day.
Now is a good time to use social media to communicate with each other. Members of my family call me on the phone or text me every evening. Group text messages are frequent. Such contacts with family or friends can help ease the isolation and emotional stress.
‘If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has made us realize that we are all human, no matter what our country of origin or status in society. Political differences are irrelevant in the face of the coronavirus reality.’
Many individuals are working from home. This requires self-discipline and creativity. I suspect that working from home will be a much more common experience in the future.
• Read a book. I have countless unread books in my house. Now is a good time to start reading them. If you like writing, now is a good time to write that article or book that you have always dreamed of writing but never seemed to get around to doing it.
• Develop a new hobby. I have a watercolor set with paints and brushes that I have never used. I have an abstract painting in mind about traffic in India. Now, I plan to do the painting. Sewing, knitting, etc. are certainly worthwhile activities during this crisis. If you sew, you might even want to make masks which are in great demand.
• Take a walk outside. There is no restriction on taking a long walk and yelling at joggers or walkers who pass by. You can even chat with a neighbor in person, so long as you are six feet apart. I was struck by the eerie silence of the neighborhood. Except for an occasional passing car, the silence was thick and heavy. I could actually feel the silence. I discovered that I can think when I walk, even though I have trouble thinking while I talk. So far, I have walked to Victoria’s house each afternoon (almost two miles) and then walked with her dogs around a park. Then, she usually drives me home. Yesterday, I also walked home.
Now is a good time to think about life. Usually, we are racing from task to task without doing any philosophical thinking about life. If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has made us realize that we are all human, no matter what our country of origin or status in society. Political differences are irrelevant in the face of the coronavirus reality.
I feel like I am part of science fiction horror movie or a nightmare. This pandemic cannot possibly be real. However, it is real and we each have to deal with it. For the sake of our own life and the lives of others, we have to follow the guidelines given to us by epidemiology experts, like it or not. My hope is that we find an effective drug soon and that a vaccine will be developed.
The best scientists in the world are working furiously toward that goal. We have to keep this pandemic in perspective and remember that, “This too shall pass.”