How would we find out if we had/have COVID-19?
Recently a friend stopped by to visit after being on a cruise ship. He had a very scary cough. Now my husband is sick. Coincidence?
But maybe not?
The thing is, at this point in technological development, most people never get tested for anything when they get sick. We probably misattribute symptoms all the time. We say we have “the flu” when it might be a bad cold, salmonella poisoning, or some other type of virus that is not technically influenza. How would we know?
A hundred years ago people thought tuberculosis was genetic.
In trying to be rational during an outbreak, the most important step is to err on the side of hygiene. If we get anything out of this epidemic, hopefully it will be a higher regard for basic hand-washing. I did a speech on Ignaz Semmelweis last year, and I was appalled to learn that there was no specific date when it became universally required for doctors to wash their hands. I wanted to throw in a tidbit like “He was ignored for 80 years.” It’s worse than that because it never happened at all.
Humans, we get pretty offended and defensive if anyone suggests we aren’t quite clean enough!
Even as we walk around coughing into space, getting up from tables without even pretending to wipe our crumbs or pick up our cups, and turning a blind eye when our kids stick their ABC gum under their chairs.
(Hey, SOMEONE is doing it and I’m pretty sure it’s not squirrels).
Last night I had to move someone else’s wet laundry. (72 units, 7 washing machines; don’t hate the player, hate the game). It was still sitting where I left it when I came down to put my stuff in the dryer, so I put the other load back in the washer where I found it.
“They think it’s clean! Now they’ll never know that someone touched it!” I told my husband when I came back upstairs. If coronavirus gives us anything, maybe it will encourage more people to set a timer and quit bogarting the washing machines.
It didn’t occur to me until just now. What if that wet laundry was sitting in the washer because the person who put it there suddenly fell ill?
How would I know?
The indicators that we might be sick or in trouble tend to look just like regular, sloppy old human behavior.
I don’t know any of my neighbors by name, and I’ve lived here over six months. People are not very friendly in our building... and will probably be less so as time goes by and epidemic preparedness becomes more culturally ingrained. I recognize a dozen people, but I don’t know who lives in which unit or what kind of schedule they normally keep. I wouldn’t know who to check on or what to ask.
“Hi, are you dead yet? No? Okay great.” *clears throat* “TEN O’CLOCK AND ALL’S WELL!”
There will probably be a digital solution for this. We all have a switch that we press at designated times and it lights up on a reader board somewhere. Everyone at 123 Main Street is still up and kicking.
More likely this will be a sensor provided by Netflix. Still viewing, still breathing... unless they’re on auto-play, because it’s actually plausible that someone might not move for 8 hours with the right show on.
We already know we can’t count on Amazon because sometimes those packages sit in the lobby for days. There’s an entire Instant Pot that’s been down there since January.
Starbucks might know. Joe hasn’t been here for his regular order in three days, that can’t be right! Although one day I’m convinced we’ll have custom coffee spigots that dispense our regular beverages with six-sigma precision, right out of the sink.
It’ll all be delivery robots, dropping off food on our doorsteps, sanitizing the sidewalks in little damp trails as they go.
...Have crows and gulls figured out delivery bags yet?
Fortunately for us, we started prepping approximately five minutes ago. We actually have soup and stuff on hand. While we understood that we were very unlikely to be quarantined, and also very unlikely to die of COVID-19, there is nothing wrong with stocking up on two or three weeks’ worth of dry goods.
It’s almost embarrassing that one of us got sick within the week. Like, why haven’t you been doing this routinely every September for your entire adult life?
It actually is quite possible that we both have been exposed to COVID-19 and wouldn’t know it. Apparently the main reason it has propagated so quickly to the level of “community spread” is that most people who are exposed to it either don’t get all that sick, or don’t have symptoms at all.
Why is my husband coughing and I’m not?
I feel a little weird, tired and a bit lethargic, but it’s almost impossible to tell whether that’s due to the change to daylight savings time. It could be psychosomatic. I wouldn’t blame anyone who felt like me for going to work and running errands just like normal. This is kinda the daily reality of middle age. “Like a young person but tired and stressed out.”
The difference between us right now is that any time I’ve been on the bus or out in public, and I heard someone coughing or blowing their nose, I would take my special zinc tablets that night. Hubby only takes them if I wave them in his face, because they taste strongly of garlic and mushroom. Bouillon cubes! This is now the third time he’s picked up a cold (or something, she said ominously) and I haven’t gotten it, even though we live together and eat mostly the same meals.
Also I drink green tea and he drinks black tea, but who’s counting?
In the end, we have to consider that there is a virus in our apartment and that both of us are probably contagious - with what, who knows? How could we ever know? Supposedly the standard-issue flu killed up to 80,000 people in one winter, and that has never been enough to inspire all that many people to get the flu shot, much less wash their hands more carefully or actually stay home when they are clearly ill.
We’re taking precautions because we can, and because suddenly this year it seems to matter more. Whatever we might have, we’re pretty sure you don’t want it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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