B is for Bare Necessities

Introverts of the world, our time has come!

But in all seriousness, I want to talk about social distancing. The world is a peculiar place at the moment, where toilet roll can be bartered for hand san, fist bumps are the new hello, and just about everyone’s an expert… on everything. With that in mind, I feel it’s my place and duty as a doctor to promote public health advice within the scope I’m qualified (#tb to that ClinEp BSc – knew it would come in handy some day!). So here we go. Amongst the overwhelming amount of good-natured acts of kindness there has been a low grumble of complaining and at worst straight up defiance of social distancing.

“So what is social distancing?” Wikipedia tells us it is “non-pharmecuetical infection control actions intended to stop or slow the spread of contagious disease”. In plain English, it’s something we, as humans, can do through our choices and actions to protect one another. There are many levels to social distancing from enforced quarantine, closure of schools and workplaces, banning large scale public gatherings, self-isolation in the presence of symptoms and, most significantly, preventing the spread of disease through healthy vectors – meaning the young and healthy in our communities who could probably carry the virus whilst exhibiting mild to almost no symptoms.

“So why can’t the older/immuno-compromised/more vulnerable groups self-isolate while the rest of us carry on as normal?” Ok, so. There are many levels to this, some scientific, some purely human. The science is all about flattening the curve (see next paragraph). The more humbling view; since when did we as a human population not care about the vulnerable in our community? Social distancing is a small (and I mean incredibly small) sacrifice to look after the more vulnerable; in each of our circles we all know someone who is more susceptible to contracting the virus, and the health implications for them are far more significant than those for the fit and healthy. It’s the “right” thing to do.

“So what’s the curve and why are we trying to flatten it?” Firstly, I’m going to direct you to an article on the Washington Post that depicts this message incredibly well >>> https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

I’ll try to be concise and do the same; the “curve” shows the number of cases that are diagnosed over time. The really steep curve (the one that looks like a sombrero) is what could happen if we continue to go out and about our daily lives as “normal”. The high peak means a high number of diagnosed and unwell patients, including those with complications who will likely require hospitalisation, and a proportion of those will require an intensive care bed. This high number has the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system. So by using social distancing we have a chance to increase the amount of time over which these patients become unwell, ie. flatten the curve. This may not necessarily change the number of patients diagnosed, but by lowering the number unwell at any one time, more people will have a chance to be appropriately managed and the healthcare system has a better chance of withstanding these pressures.

Covid curve

Coronavirus cases with and without protective measures over time

“So what am I supposed to do with all this time at home?” If you’re feeling well in yourself and able to work from home/socially distance yourself, you’ve been given the gift of time! Read that book you’ve not got round to, roll out your yoga mat and get moving, binge watch the Netflix box set you’ve been eyeing up, bake a cake and learn a new recipe, do the DIY you’ve been putting off, catch up with your friends through the wonder of FaceTime… Or better still, if you’re well and able, help out those in your community who could really do with a helping hand at this time; offer to pick up their shopping, post their mail, or simply call them on the phone for a friendly chat.

Recent news sources have likened the impact of Covid-19 on the Italian healthcare system as that of war-like conditions  – how crazy is that? This is a chance for us to unite as humans in the face of a common adverse force, and we can get through this by staying grounded and turning panic into preparedness. Plans have been cancelled and there will certainly be more disappointment to come (I’ll be the first to put my hand up to say I’m completely gutted to have saved up all my annual leave to have my holiday cancelled, but what can you do) and it’s only human to feel upset. But honestly, this is an exceptional circumstance and it won’t be forever. Look after yourselves, look after your community – and wash your hands!!!

***As always, follow reliable news sources/Public Health England & Wales/NHS/CDC for updates. For reputable information and myth-busting on social media, sources I personally trust include @drjoshuawolrich @drpunamkrishnan @thefoodmedic ***

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