During a pandemic, going to large social gatherings – or even just seeing friends – is a selfish act. The most effective way to fight COVID-19 is to stay home in order to protect the community as a whole. Social distancing is the only way to move forward.
The earlier social distancing is implemented, the more effective it is. This is because the contagion is exponential, and cutting the curve off early has the biggest impact. On Saturday, Mar. 14, there were 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. This number jumped to 35 cases on Sunday, Mar. 15, and then to 54 cases by yesterday, Monday, Mar. 16. Additionally, yesterday we saw the first cases of community transmission in Minnesota. This means that those individuals had not come into contact with someone who had the virus, or traveled to an already affected location, meaning they contracted the disease through community events or public spaces.
The most devastating effect of COVID-19’s exponential increase is its potential to overwhelm hospitals and our healthcare system at a shocking rate. Hospitals are equipped to handle today’s 60 reported cases, just as they have been since Minnesota saw its first case on Mar. 6, ten days ago. But given the rate of infection, we expect to see far more than 120 cases by ten days from now. It’s a curve, not a straight line. It’s important that we work to flatten this curve so that those who are sick are able to receive proper treatment.
There are two dangers of catching COVID-19: the personal and the communal. The risk of both is highly understated among young people. First, there is the personal effect. Many students may believe that because of their age and overall health, contracting COVID-19 would be similar to contracting the flu. However, it is important to recognize the effects of vaping and smoking of any kind on this illness.
According to the American Lung Association, not only do vaping and smoking negatively affect lung health by killing cells that help to fight dust and germs that enter the lungs, but marijuana acts as an immunosuppressant. Anyone who regularly smokes or vapes is at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, and will have a more difficult time recovering if they do fall ill.
Even for young, healthy students who are not at any type of elevated risk, there is the community to think of. Due to the incubation period and the fact that many cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, it is extremely easy to pass the disease onto someone who does not have the resources or the immune system to fight it. The best way to move forward is to act as though you already have the virus and are attempting not to pass it along to people who may be harmed. For young, healthy people, COVID-19 may look like anything from nothing to a more serious flu, but for their grandparents, it could be a death sentence.
Thinking communally, it is important to recognize that the ability to practice social distancing is an enormous privilege. If a family is able to live safely and even comfortably with family members taking time off of work and children taking time off of school, safely contained inside their own living quarters, then they have far more financial resources than most Americans. For those who are homeless or simply cannot afford to take time off of work, this type of isolation is simply not possible. Since the social distancing of each individual family unit has a positive impact on the entire community, it is even more important for those who are able to practice it do isolate themselves.
It’s also important to know that the positive impacts of social distancing are not binary. Students and their parents may still need to go to work, for example, making complete isolation impossible. But if a family member needs to interact with people outside the house, it does not mean that the family should abandon social distancing altogether. The fewer people that a family unit interacts with during this time, the better. If you must interact with people outside your family, there are ways to go about those meetings that are safer than others. Consider meeting up to go on a walk in a park and avoiding other people you see.
For students, and for seniors especially, there is no denying that this is not the way anyone wanted to spend spring break. COVID-19 is hindering end-of-year plans, traditions, and time spent with friends before leaving for college. It’s okay to feel upset about these things, even while acknowledging how privileged it is for spring break plans to be your main concern during a global pandemic.
But remember – ignoring COVID-19 won’t make it go away. Instead, it will raise the disease’s body count. Choosing whether or not to go to a party or hang out with friends is a life-or-death decision, and the most dangerous part is that you may never know which one you chose. Attending a party might only pass COVID-19 from one healthy, asymptomatic carrier to another, but that next carrier could be the one to pass it to someone who won’t survive.
Right now, safety looks like isolation. Community looks like separation. Love looks like distance. It’s difficult to accept these new definitions, but to ignore them is to jeopardize yourself and everyone you love. So stay inside. Stay safe. Keep others safe. We’ll get through this together – even if that means getting through it alone.