Hey America, I’m Talking to You: Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
I’m pressing publish even as I know this is way, way, way outside of my comfort zone.
What follows is my interpretation of coronavirus, as explained to me by my favorite family medical professional. You should know, I’m not a medical professional, and while I checked the stats and linked to sources for the facts, please do what your favorite medical professional advises. I’m merely attempting to break it down in a way that breaks through.
There are 331M people in the US.
Approximately 109M of them are over 50, so roughly a third.
Generally incurable and ongoing chronic diseases affect about 133 million Americans, so as many as 40% of us are at elevated risk for coronavirus, one way or another.
And while we don’t exactly know what will happen in the US, we can forecast different scenarios and outcomes based on what’s happened in China and Italy.
We do know there is no vaccine for coronavirus, that it’s very contagious, and likes groups of people.
So first, let’s look at our environment. China’s population is 1.4B or roughly four times bigger than ours, and by ours, I mean the US. China and the US are approximately the same sizes in terms of landmass, which means their population density is much higher than ours. They average 375 people/square mile, while we average 93. As mentioned, we do know coronavirus is very contagious and likes groups of people. That could be less of a factor if we spread out via self-quarantining and social distancing.
Italy’s population is 60M, but it’s a much, much smaller country, in terms of landmass. Italy is 32 times smaller than the US and China, which means there are approximately 532 people/square mile in Italy.
Again, it could be to our advantage to spread out, as we do know that coronavirus is very contagious and likes groups of people. See the debacles on the cruise ships as evidence too: close quarters, recycled air, everyone gets it.
Italy is currently getting hammered. Wuhan did too. It’s a city of approximately 11M people in China, slightly larger than NYC, our biggest city. Understanding China’s size and density helped me understand why their actions were so swift and decisive.
See, timing is everything.
Over the next few months or year-ish, everyone in the US is likely to be exposed to coronavirus. Since we know we are all going to be exposed, the problem isn’t so much that we will, it’s when we will that determines what will happen next.
When has a much more significant impact than you could imagine. Here’s why: For the over 50 crowd and those with underlying conditions, it could get bad fast.
For the young and generally healthy, it’s likely to feel more like the flu. Watch for a high fever and dry cough at the onset. Most of us will be able to tough it out, kind of like we do with the flu. Maybe that’s why people aren’t taking it seriously or keep comparing it to the flu. It’s not the flu.
For others, it will be worse, and they may need medical treatment. For those with acute symptoms, it gets much bleaker.
The disease has an estimated 2%-4% kill rate. That means that a healthy person still has a 2% chance of dying if infected. A sick or elderly has a 4% chance of dying if infected. Those percentages will go up if we overload the hospitals. Scary stuff, but I’m not trying to scare you. I’m presenting the facts, as explained to me.
Let’s say you are at higher risk, but don’t die. You’re likely to need acute care, but there are only an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 ICU beds in the US and roughly the same number of ventilators. At that point, your survival may require a ventilator.
So, that means that less than half of 1 percent of the US population is eligible to receive acute care at any given time, given the equipment available. That’s not a problem on most days, but it is definitely problematic with coronavirus. Remember, we are talking as many as 40% of Americans who might need it.
Let’s do some more math. Approximately 40% of ICU beds could be occupied at any given time with “normal” (acute, but not coronavirus) patients. So, let’s say 2M need acute care and 1M need ventilators, and we have 60–150k options for them. That’s 940k to 1.85M people who are out of luck.
There is some hope that the military will have additional resources, but nowhere near enough to close the gap.
It’s a long-winded way to justify why staying home and social distancing is legit. I hope we aren’t too late.
Bottom line: If you need acute care, you are only going to receive it if it’s available. And, if the hospitals and staff are overrun, they are overrun.
Getting coronavirus when 2M other people already have it is disadvantageous. Don’t get it when it peaks. I know we can’t control everything, so let’s control what we can, namely our exposure.
With that, let’s mark it down, 3/15/20: Our collective goal is to survive the next two weeks. Yes, I said, survive. Again, this is not a drill.
So, until the end of the month, don’t go anywhere. Unless it’s to work and you can safely work 6–10 feet or more away from your colleagues, don’t go. Don’t go shopping, to the store, to the movies, to the bar, to the library. Church was already canceled. That should be a clue.
Just don’t go. If you need to get outside, go to a park that’s nearly deserted and use hand sanitizer if you touch anything. Go for a hike, play in your backyard with your kids, go for a dog walk, but if you see your neighbor, wave or blow air kisses, but please don’t cross the street to chit chat.
Many people think that March will set the tone for everything regarding coronavirus in the US. If March is a disaster, meaning way more people get it and share it than anticipated, and the hospitals and medical staff get overwhelmed early on, it’s going to get way worse before it gets better.
If March goes better than anticipated, hopefully, everything changes for the better.
But, either way, expect that life won’t go back totally to normal for up to a year. A year! If that seems impossible, I get it. I feel it too.
There’s a study about mice and cherry blossom scents, and the short version is that the mice receive a shock every time they smell cherry blossoms. It gets to the point that when the mice detect the scent, it’s like they are getting shocked, even though there is no actual shock.
Here’s the crazy part. When the mice have babies, the babies have an aversion to cherry blossoms. It’s not hereditary; it’s epigenetics. I don’t know that much about epigenetics, but it totally makes sense, doesn’t it?
People likely experience this, too. Our children and grandchildren can have epigenetic marks caused by the trauma that our ancestors and we suffered.
So, why am I sharing this seemingly unrelated thing? Because nothing is unrelated.
Epigenetics is a somewhat controversial idea, but let’s think through it.
To me, and probably to many women and mothers, the idea that wars, famines, genocides, social injustices of the most severe kind wouldn’t leave a mark is inconceivable. The people getting traumatized, the people doing the traumatizing, the people dealing firsthand with either group must be affected at such a natal level that, of course, it affects their lives and their descendants. How could it not? Haven’t you been paying attention to history? Haven’t you noticed how war-torn countries and traumatized families process the world?
Think about it this way. When a baby is inside its mother’s womb, they share nutrients through an umbilical cord, but they also share the mother’s emotional well-being.
There is so much we understand about human nature, and so much that we sense but can’t yet prove. That’s because although science has evolved and tech has improved, “women’s issues” haven’t always been a priority.
The ability to be life-giving, to be a mother, is awe-inspiring and so much bigger than we know. There are so many evolutionary lessons in it. If you are a mother, you may have had a glimpse into another realm of power and love.
Here’s what else happens when you become a mother. You somehow appreciate truths you may not have been able to see before. And when that happens, one of those truths is that we are all interconnected. We see ourselves in each other and in each other’s children (and there’s no such thing as other people’s children). Women intuitively know that your problems are my problems, and my problems are yours.
In a grassroots example, I know if the couple down the street with the drug problem get high and decide to shoot it out or drive intoxicated, that puts my family at risk. At a systemic level, I know that school shootings, global warming, a recession, unpaid leave, and inequality put my family in danger too.
For a mom, whose instinct is always to protect her babies, all issues come down to the family level.
That’s not to say we don’t appreciate the complexity of the issues or that we don’t see them for the glaringly large problems they are. It’s that we don’t want to endure the bureaucracy, manage the corporate disfunction, or wait for politically motivated governments to solve it at a global level. We just want to fix the fucking problem in front of us right now and give our kids the best opportunity possible at a good life.
We can trace the links between this issue to that one to that one. We can see the thread that binds us and how the problem is always everyone’s problem. We want to solve it at a family level because we feel the fierceness of our maternal instincts, we know other mamas feel it too, and we trust other mamas to have our collective best interests at heart. Maybe fathers do that too?
Maybe men understand interconnectivity, but perhaps they don’t. There have been generations of male leaders who, if they do get it, don’t exhibit leadership that demonstrates an understanding.
Mark Hyman, on the other hand, seems to be a real-life example of a man who gets it. His expertise lies in food, and he understands that if we can fix the food system, we can solve many big problems — namely the chronic disease/obesity epidemic, the rising costs of healthcare, as well as the significant issues facing the environment.
Those are some of the biggest problems we face, so it’s no small thing that he is an example of a man who connects the dots.
But for every Mark, there are hundreds of guys who only see it at a selfish level, which usually presents as a financial issue.
Take coronavirus. Women are mainly thinking, how do I keep my family safe, and while some men — the good guys — are thinking that too; more men — the villains — seem to be thinking, how do I mitigate my financial loss and capitalize in this market? Cue the guy hoarding the mini hand sanitizers.
I see the pain and feel the threat of coronavirus and know NOT ONE OF US is going to come out unscathed. So how we manage it right now, like RIGHT THIS FUCKING MINUTE, matters.
We’ve got to suck it up and take one for the team. That means we all stay home for the rest of the month. We order anything we need or make do with what we already have.
Even that’s no guarantee. But what if it saves you, your family, your neighbor, your friend, your local hospital worker, or someone halfway around the world? What if, by staying home, you save lives or improves the odds for everyone? That’s interconnectivity.
We all are going through some potentially dire shit. It’s indelible, and the mark it leaves will be permanent, for us, for our children, for our planet, for international relations, for healthcare, for generational wealth, and more.
This is not a plea for anyone (except the billionaires) to do more.
What I’m offering up instead is a way to reframe the situation. The wait it out method sucks for most of us, so here’s something seemingly frivolous that actually might help.
Step 1: Look at your calendar for the next 17 days. Postpone, reschedule, or cancel everything that requires you to leave the house.
Step 2: Envision the vacation of your dreams. Let’s say your dream vacation is a tour of Europe’s most impressive cities over 17 days. On day 1, you know you’ll be having croissants and espresso at a 5-star French café, followed by a private tour of the Louvre, followed by an intimate evening dinner party at the Palace of Versailles with some of the coolest people on the planet.
You’d need the right outfits, shoes, accessories, supplies, transportation, the right camera, and the right phone to document it, too, right? You’d plot out every detail with your plus one, perhaps even outlining talking points to not leave anything, or any opportunity, to chance.
And, in this exercise, that’s just Day 1 of your vacation. Days 2–17 would be equally amazing, so you can imagine how much you’d have to think it through. It’s an outrageous example, but it makes a point.
To be clear, we aren’t planning a vacation right now. We are planning our self-quarantine with same thoughtfulness with which we would plan our dream vacation, because we need a contingency plan, and anything could happen.
Step 3: Map out each of the next 17 days as deliberately as if you are going on that vacation. Put that level of thoughtfulness and planning into the next 17 days. Leave nothing to chance. Do it from a spirit of anticipation, not fear.
On Day 1, today, what are you going to eat? How is each member of your family going to pass the time? Do you have work obligations, pets to care for, or homework? How will you work out and stay active? How will you manage screen time and stress eating?
Will you meditate? What else will help you stay sane? How can you get quality time with your spouse? What time will you wake up? Go to sleep? Who will you call and check on? What’s the weather supposed to do? What supplies do you need? Will it help to document it?
Channel your energy and map out Days 2–17 with the same intensity and thoughtfulness. Theme each day if you have the flexibility to do that. That means picking 17 overarching priorities and scheduling one each day.
For example, one day might be to catch up on laundry. Wash all the bedding and everything dirty in the house. Another day might be home management — order all the supplies you still need, fill up the gas tanks, straighten up the house, meal prep, and take care of basics.
Another day might be spent savoring your family by loving your kids, sunup to sundown, showering them with affection to fill your cup, bolster their spirits, and make your family feel safe. You might spend one day outside on a hike, connecting to nature, and another, with a good book, in a virtual meeting, or sharing profound conversations, connecting on a deeper level, finding reminders of how precious and good life truly is.
You might spend another day working on your business, targeting your top three priorities and making measurable, definitive, progress that gets you to another level, or mapping out the rest of the year’s goals given the new business climate.
Another might be calling everyone you love and telling them that you are thinking of them, what they mean to you, sending them high vibes, love, healing, protection, and endurance. Another might be ordering flowers or making meals for healthcare workers. Another might be journaling and crying all day, just getting it out so you can go on.
Do what you must do to sustain.
Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Be part of the solution.
And in a couple of weeks or a month, we can reassess together. We can determine our next 30-day plan and go on. If it all turns out to be overhyped, overblown, or go away for any reason at all, hallelujah.
Life is good. It has always been good. It will always be good. Never forget that.
Our responsibility lies not just to ourselves or our families, not only to our communities or our country, but to every living thing and even to the planet, to future generations and our ancestors, to life itself. This is an opportunity to honor that.