A month ago, the threat of COVID-19, more commonly known as Coronavirus, seemed distant. And it was for many —Wuhan, China, the origin of the virus, was more than an ocean away. In the past week, however, reality hit: Italy and Ireland, and Denmark have locked down, the city of New Rochelle in New York was quarantined, and U.S. President Trump has halted all flights from Europe to the United States. Looking back into the past two months, we’ve seen the rise and spread of a highly-infectious contagion cause entire cities to come to a halt with an ever-growing pressure on scientists and medical professionals to cure and prevent further infection.
But those health workers aren’t immune to the devastation of the disease itself. As of March 4th, at least 8 doctors in Wuhan have died after contracting the virus from patients–including whistleblower Li Wenliang. As Coronavirus spreads worldwide–WHO declared the infection to be a pandemic on March 11th–more and more healthcare workers are pushed to the frontlines, seen as the defenders of humanity and the bringers of cures. A detail often overlooked in the spreading panic regarding the illness, understandably so, is that those healthcare providers are family, too. And their loved ones aren’t quiet about it.
I’m not. After a childhood friend let me know they found a Coronavirus case at the hospital our fathers work at frequently, I didn’t know where to place my dread.
“Is anyone here dealing with physician parents over 60?” I helplessly typed into a support group on Facebook-and on my Instagram story. “My dad is an ER practitioner, and I am always worried about him nowadays. He’s one of the people others rely on during this time, but, he’s also like, my dad, lol. How are you dealing with the stress?
The response was overwhelming:
“I’m praying and staying in denial,” one response said.
“My dad’s 65,” another member said. “[He] doesn’t work in ER, but had a bypass. Safe to say I’m terrified.”
“My dad’s 60+,” a fellow member immediately followed. “I’m convinced hospitals are cleaner than most other places and quarantine of virus patients is effective, so hopefully it will be okay.”
“I’m super stressed,” confided a member from abroad. “Both my parents are just under 60 and meet a lot of other risk factors, too.”
The stress is augmented when headlines underline our panic, like news that the world is facing a mask shortage amid news of the virus’s increasing spread.
“Seriously people-STOP BUYING MASKS!” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams exclaimed in a tweet, acknowledging the shortage of medical equipment. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk.”
The risk is increasing due to lower travel prices as consequence of quarantine. Travel, whether by cruise or plane or train, by carriers, asymptomatic or not, expedited the Coronavirus pandemic. With that, Millennials are taking advantage of “ghost planes” and lower airfares, booking their getaway trips, despite the urging by WHO for social distancing.
The lax or overzealous approach to the health scare augments the danger in the way of our healthcare providers, or for me, danger headed towards my father, whether through lack of adequate equipment or hygiene practices. And other loved ones are acknowledging that, too:
“[My dad] is a 70+ anesthesiologist. He determined if a case comes to the hospital he is going to refuse to go to work. I’m already not letting him go to the grocery store or very crowded places.”
But, a wholesome, silver-lining shone through in the worry. Of all the parents, almost every single one knew the sacrifice they were taking was for the greater good.
“…My dad loves his job, but hell no,” she continued. “Not playing with this one.”
“My dad loves his job, too!” I echoed, “he knows this is his calling!”
“[My mom] loves her job and will definitely not agree to taking any days off,” another chimed in.
A poster whose father is over the 70-year-old age bracket with pre-existing conditions and works 8-9 hours a day abroad explained “he’s dedicated to his patients. Says it will all be ok.”
“My mom is working alone away while we’re all at home. She doesn’t want to come home and risk getting exposed and spreading it to the rest of the family.”
In the end, the extremes prove to be our bane. Both the careless and the overzealous are contributing to delayed containment of Coronavirus. It puts communities, and people like our parents, at risk.