My neighbor woke me up a couple of nights ago around 3:00 a.m. I heard her giggling loudly with a male suitor whose voice I recognized, her high heels clacking across the floor.
As I’ve convalesced from a suspected case of COVID-19 this past week, I’ve heard only quiet living noises from her direction, so I’d assumed she’d been social distancing — and that her friend had been doing so too, elsewhere. It’s been blissfully quiet.
But the other night, they were both in her apartment after what sounded like a typical night out on the town. I groaned, not just because they woke me up, but because these are anything but typical times. I am disheartened by people who are still treating them as such.
On the one hand, I get it. I know what it’s like to miss out on days, weeks, months, and even years, when you are otherwise supposed be at the pinnacle of life.
Fifteen years ago, at 25-years-old, I was sidelined by several chronic illnesses. I was bedridden for the latter half of my 20s, while I fought for a diagnosis and then struggled through intensive treatment. I missed weddings and reunions. I missed the opportunity to work. I missed going to the gym. I missed meeting new people. I missed my friends. I missed out on life, and that was hard; sometimes it was really, really hard.
... scores of young and healthy citizens are not taking this social responsibility seriously, and the consequences could be catastrophic.
But when I heard my neighbor and her friend come home from a night they didn’t miss, I shuddered. Not from my fever, but from imagining how many other people they may have been in contact with — wherever they went, whatever transportation they took, in the lobby and elevator of our own large apartment building.
Research shows that one healthy or asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 can spread the virus to an average of three people; when you multiply how many people those three then possibly infect, the numbers grow as quickly as the case — and death — tolls we’re now seeing across the world.
The simple solution is to stay home.
Of course, some people do need to go out: hospital and other essential workers, folks needing groceries, people with severe symptoms requiring medical care. Families with houses go outside in their own backyards to get sunshine and sanity. But if you don’t need to go out, don’t.
Nevertheless, scores of young and healthy citizens are not taking this social responsibility seriously, and the consequences could be catastrophic.
Our elected leaders are sending mixed messages about the necessity of staying home. While some states like California and New York have declared shelter-in-place orders, others, including Massachusetts, have directed non-essential businesses to close. Still, other states have yet to take any action.
President Trump has also been unclear about the urgency of sheltering in place. This week, he’s been suggesting — against the advice of scientists and public health experts — that he may 're-open' the American economy by Easter.
The longer we remain blasé about social distancing, the longer it will take for the economy to safely re-open, and the more people will get sick and die. We have perhaps seven to 14 days to take decisive action.
Until the government issues a blanket shelter-in-place order, though, we have a social responsibility to do so ourselves.
Yet on social media, we’ve seen photos of spring breakers continuing to party, and then getting on planes to travel home with hundreds of other people, some of whom are likely immunocompromised or elderly, or who are going home to someone who is. Earlier this week, five University of Tampa students (so far), recently on spring break, tested positive for COVID-19.
Others continue to frequent neighborhood hotspots to give locals the business — an admirable gesture, until you think about what else those people might be giving each other. Neighbors are having small gatherings and letting their kids have play dates with just one or two classmates, generally with the rationale that all of those people are healthy, so it’s fine.
It’s not fine, because all of those people might be carriers.
Or they might develop symptoms tomorrow.
Your child, or your elderly grandmother, who you saw after that neighborhood gathering, might develop a serious case of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization.
One satirical piece showed spring breakers spelling out YOLO on the beach using bodies of COVID-19 patients. Dark humor that brings an important truth to light: young, healthy people, this isn’t about you. It’s about the immunocompromised, the elderly, the overworked healthcare workers.
And yet it is about you — because you are the ones who can help those at highest risk by staying home. It’s also about you, because you — young person -- are not immune to this disease. There are cases of young, healthy people, with no pre-existing conditions, who are now fighting for their lives in intensive care units. Some haven’t made it.
New CDC data shows that nearly 40% of patients sick enough to be hospitalized were age 20 to 54. At a news conference, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned young people:
"You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don't get sick the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else."
Healthy people can be carriers to people like me, to people who are elderly, to people who seem young and healthy but could take ill tomorrow. I am now self-quarantined, and people who are asymptomatic should essentially be, too.
The best way we can ensure future YOLO moments is to stay home now.