Who could have imagined that a tiny particle, microscopic in size and with such a noble name as novel coronavirus, would so disrupt our lives? Many of us have lived through wars, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, but not since the Spanish Flu of 1918 has the world experienced such a health crisis. To exacerbate the problem, scientists and doctors who have studied viruses for years know little about this one.
My adult daughter, who recently recovered from the virus, confirms it. Her doctor told her that, since she experienced it, she knows more about the virus than he does. It has the word novel in front of it for a reason. It is a new form of the group of corona viruses already identified, so called because they resemble the corona of the sun. The virus has been dubbed Covid-19, with “Co” standing for corona, “vi” for virus, “d” for disease, and “19” for its emergence in 2019.
Like all viruses, Covid-19 does not sustain itself on its own. On surfaces where it lands or if suspended in air, it cannot reproduce. But breathe in those air droplets or touch those surfaces and then your face, the virus enters, attaching its deadly spikes into your living cells. You become its host. In you it multiplies and, like a parasite, attacks the respiratory system where it does the most damage, killing the most vulnerable such as the old and those with health issues or low immunity.
As seen from its rapid spread (as of this writing, over 2 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 137,000 confirmed dead and rising), Covid-19 is highly contagious and potentially dangerous. To mitigate its spread, government leaders all over the world have issued orders to stay at home. They’ve closed all nonessential businesses, schools, restaurants, parks, churches, and anywhere people normally gather. As a result, more and more people have lost their jobs, causing the unemployment rate to skyrocket and the economy of many countries to tank.
In practicing social distancing to stop the virus from spreading, however, we’re losing part of our humanity and possibly our sanity. Stuck indoors, we’re online more, on the phone more, watching more television and sitting much too much. Yes, we can spend a lot of time with our family, but too much of a good thing has its own risks. In unstable homes, domestic violence is on the rise. Away from work and extended family and friends, many feel a loss of privacy, a loss of purpose. For people living alone, not having someone to touch or hug is a big deprivation.
Even in the best of circumstances, we can get on each other’s nerves or on our own. We can’t exercise, meet friends, or go out to dinner as we did before. We can’t celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with extended family and friends. We can’t visit loved ones, sick family members, or those in nursing homes. The worst of it is that those who succumb to the ravages of the disease die alone with no loving family to hold their hand or say goodbye. And there’s no funeral to follow to comfort family members.
Our healthcare workers have a different set of circumstances. They walk directly into the line of fire. They risk their lives and their family’s lives going to work every day to treat those stricken. They bear the brunt of seeing the virus take so many lives.
A myriad of mental health concerns has emerged. People are overstressed. Worries about how to pay the rent, the utility bill, and feed our families abound. How do we cope with the facts that our lives have changed so radically, that our freedoms have been curtailed so drastically, that our economy has been so destabilized? When will these restrictions end so we can get our life back and return to normal?
The outer safety measures, though difficult to follow at first, now seem easier to deal with when set against the emotional and psychological stresses of these unprecedented times. Anxiety, fear, helplessness, isolation, too much togetherness turning detrimental, lack of privacy, lack of work fulfillment, worries about money and how to support the family—these can overwhelm anyone. They impact our relationships with others and with ourselves. They also diminish our immune system and good health to fight off disease, the very one from which we are trying to protect ourselves.
So how do we cope?
Some proponents suggest doing things that nurture us. Hobbies such as painting, writing, cooking, anything for which we have a natural bent and that feeds our souls. Some choose helping others any way they can to keep busy. They shop for needy neighbors, sew protective masks, or phone to check in on elderly relatives. Some practice meditation. Those of us who believe in a loving God turn to prayer.
Noted psychologist Dr. Fred Luskin tell us our fears, stresses, and anxieties are normal reactions to these abnormal times. Accepting it is a first step. Practicing patience, along with the restrictions, helps us to believe there is an end to this virus.
Perhaps New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily assessment of the pandemic says it best. After citing all the facts of where we stand in terms of number of positive cases, hospital needs, and casualties, he explains what our response should be by elaborating on four words: tough, united, smart, and loving.
The first is to tough it out and stay the course. We must persevere throughout the length of the virus’s duration and not misstep by losing faith. We must continue adhering to social distancing guidelines to keep this virus from killing more people. It is heart-wrenching to see so many die from the virus, but social distancing is working. The number of new positive cases, hospitalizations, and intubations has decreased. Now is not the time to stop doing what we’re doing.
“It’s not about me, but about us,” Governor Cuomo adds. What I do affects others. What others do affects me. It’s a united effort for mutual benefit. Once we know we are not alone, the task seems less daunting.
We must also be smart in the way we reopen businesses and schools by first conducting valid tests that clear people to return to work. We must not neglect the lessons this pandemic teaches. Returning too soon and without a well-thought-out and tested plan on a regional basis can set us back rather than propel us forward.
Last, we must be loving people. While suffering marks our character, acts of kindness go a long way in making us whole. These are the moments our humanity can shine through and a new normal, one better than the one we left behind, can emerge.
For me, this was evident on Easter Sunday as my children, grandchildren, and I used the video conferencing app Zoom to spend some time together on this most holy of days. As we gazed into each other’s faces from our respective homes, my heart reached out to them with love. I felt their love jump out to me.
“Mom, you seemed so happy on camera,” my daughter texted me later. “When we talk on the phone you sound so stressed.”
“I was so glad to see everyone again,” I said, brimming with joy. After weeks of being apart, confined at home, we felt a rebirth of connection. The Easter message had taken root.
Rose Marie Dunphy is the author of five books and numerous articles published in periodicals including the New York Times, Newsday, and the Christian Science Monitor. Holding a master’s degree from Stony Brook University, she is a NYS-licensed science and English teacher, now retired. Mother of four, grandmother of seven, she lectors in her parish.