I’m not a touchy-feely person, I hate traveling and large crowds and I always carry hand sanitizer in my purse. So I guess I’m already pretty prepared for the coronavirus.

When I was a kid I used to spend a fair amount of time drawing up emergency escape routes and various disaster preparedness plans for fun. (I was a weird 7-year-old.) But for this particular emerging issue, my mom has taken the prep lead. She stocked up the pantry and called a family meeting (including teleconferencing for members of the family who are at a distance) to make sure we all had plans for what we would do if we had to self-quarantine or if our workplaces shut down for a while. We’ve all stocked up on our medications. Our family mascot (a knit Baby Yoda doll) is in the center of the kitchen table, along with a bottle of hand sanitizer, assisting with morale.

We were joking that Maine has a pretty good chance of avoiding the spread of the virus because there aren’t that many of us here and we’re all spread pretty far apart. On the other, more serious hand, it’s not a joking matter. We have a lot of senior citizens in this state (like, a lot of them) and age appears to be a factor in how severe the illness caused by COVID-19 gets. I’m young and reasonably healthy and I eat plenty of vegetables; I could probably contract and get over coronavirus without much of a problem.

But I’m going to be extra careful about hygiene practices and not touching people and avoiding large crowds because I don’t want to be a vector for any possible transmission. People who are healthy and strong have a responsibility to help protect and take care of people who are ill or weak. Now is the time for “social distancing” – we should be avoiding crowds and large events to cut down on potential transmission and buy some more time for our health systems to prepare. We may not be able to stop the virus at this point, but we can slow its spread so hospitals don’t become overwhelmed.

Once you’ve spent time in a cancer ward, you really gain an appreciation for how fragile the human immune system can be. And you never forget what a ventilator sounds like.

I’d like to give two pieces of advice. The most important is, if you are washing your hands frequently, you also have to moisturize them frequently as well, or else you run the risk of drying out your skin and having it crack, which can let the germs in. Hand sanitizer might be sold out everywhere, but there are still plenty of travel-sized lotions around. And second, when it comes to hand-washing, if you can, invest in nice soap. I’ve been a fan of foaming soap (particularly in a citrus scent) for a long time because it just makes washing my hands feel fancier.

I caught the flu a few weeks ago and was lucky enough to have some paid sick leave, so I could stay home for three days and get over my illness without taking a financial hit. However, because of that, I have only one day of sick leave left, so if I get sick before I accumulate more paid time off (we have an earn-as-you-go system: I earn approximately two hours of paid time off for every 40 hours worked), then I’ll be back to facing the same decisions a lot of workers face: Go to work sick, or lose money? If there’s any upside to this coronavirus crisis, I hope it’s a serious national discussion about how much we need paid sick leave in this country.

I read a lot of books about World War II when I was a kid (because, and I cannot emphasize this enough, I was a weird kid). One thing that always particularly fascinated me was the idea of “the home front” – the massive mobilization and sacrifices of American civilians (rationing, “Victory Gardens,” women moving into the workforce in huge numbers) in the effort to win the war.

I always wondered if our society – larger and more fractured than it was in the 1940s – could pull off anything similar today. I guess we’re going to get the unfortunate opportunity to find out.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

 


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