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It’s hard not to feel helpless at a time like this; only a handful of people living today have lived through a global pandemic that altered daily life so dramatically, and they were likely babies at the time. 

The 1918 Flu Pandemic, which actually started in the heartland of the United States, was exported to Spain via ships full of American servicemen off to fight in Europe during World War I.  Little was understood about the way influenza was transmitted, and President Truman thought it would make America look less than courageous to let a handful of sick soldiers interrupt the deployment of troops. The ships became known as “floating coffins,” due to the large number of deaths attributed to the original handful of sick soldiers.  From there, the rest of the world was exposed, because contagion is really good at hitching a ride on “good guys” and breaching borders.

The good news is, we know better now about what to do and what not to do in the face of this new strain of coronavirus.  

Right now, one of the main efforts to slow the spread means staying away from others, or at least creating a space of at least six feet in all directions from ourselves.  That magic number “6” is because the droplets from most sneezes and coughs don’t go beyond that distance.  That being said, we all know exceptions, so act accordingly. It turns out to be wishful thinking that younger people are immune to the infection; however, many may stay symptom free and become “super spreaders” if they don’t observe precautions such as “safe spacing.” Beyond that, the Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov) has very specific guidelines to prevent, diagnose, and address the symptoms of the novel coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.  

But what can we do beyond protecting and caring for ourselves and our families? Is everything going to be addressed by the federal, state, and local governments?  Frankly, there are so many levels and extended consequences to this pandemic that it would be impossible for any one governmental body to handle all the fallout from the pandemic. Yes, we need all those entities to do their part, and if you don’t think enough is being done, contact your pertinent representatives or agencies. Now, what else can each of us do to help our community, country, and the world get through this as quickly and safely as possible?

For one thing, we can make an effort not to panic and buy up supplies in high demand (like toilet paper and sanitizer), or best left for the health care workers who will be repeatedly exposed to the virus (such as medical masks).  If our healthcare workers get sick, not only with they and their families suffer, but we all will suffer the sidelining of their expertise and dedication to public health.

Most of us know others who live on their own, are elderly or disabled. They can benefit from a neighborly phone call to check on their wellbeing, provide grocery shopping for ongoing needs or prescription refills (remember to get their full name and birthdate, as well as the exact medication name. Most often they can pay over the phone for their grocery/medication order (check with stores for pre-ordering and paying options), or they can pay their good Samaritan before or after pick-up. Remember to maintain safe spacing, and don’t be offended if you’re told to “Leave it at the door.” The same people who need our support the most are also the most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.

Hospitals across the country are either overwhelmed or bracing to be overwhelmed by patients seeking testing or treatment for COVID-19, in addition to all the other patients they see on a regular basis.  Hospitals in the states of Washington and New York are experiencing shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE), which includes medical masks, and are resorting to reusing PPE gear after sanitizing it to the best of their ability.  Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, WA, put out a request for the public’s help in sewing together medical-type masks — and that need was quickly met.

The pattern, found on The Turban Project website, allows home sewing crafters and quilters to create masks that can be used in various medical settings, at the discretion of the healthcare system. 

Donations of N-95 masks can go to the hospital, and reusable masks can be used for cancer patients and the “worried well.” If someone who sews asks around, any number of people will want them.

Our area businesses need our support and help, as well. Restaurants are suffering all over, even if they are able to practice safe distancing for inside dining. Many people have fears about being in any kind of gathering, understandably.  

You can still purchase food from most of your favorite eateries and pick up either at the register or curbside. Most restaurants will allow you to pay over the phone, tip included. Please include the tip, as the staff largely depend on tips for a living.  

According to researchers, the coronavirus is not viable in cooked food, and the hydrochloric acid in our stomach is able to burn through this virus. Other viruses, such as the Norovirus are not so easily wiped out. 

When you call in the order, ask the restaurant about their hygiene practices during these extraordinary times, and ask if gloves will be used by the server handing off to you. When you drive up, call again to let them know you are there to pick-up, and don’t forget to thank them for staying open. I also highly recommend that you think about how much you like some of your favorite restaurants, and how much you would normally spend over the course of one or two months. If, and I sincerely mean “if,” you have the reliable income or ability to do so, please buy a gift card that could help make the difference for the venues over the next several weeks. 

Sanitize the containers before you remove the food and place on regular plates, and then throw away the containers right away.  Wash your hands for those 20+ seconds before taking the food to the table and eating.  

Our area wineries are being hit hard, as well, with lower than usual foot traffic in their stores. Check with your favorites. Chestnut Hill Winery will deliver (closed) bottles curbside, and they also ship. Stonehaus Winery will also ship wines, with ordering available online. No onsite purchases are available at this time. 

A little wine with a prepared meal is not a bad way to spend any evening.  Again, gift cards are readily available with a credit card over the phone, and they may be able to mail it to you if you’re not picking up a bottle or two on site.

We have several chain stores that will take orders online with pick-up at the customer service counter. Several local stores are also assisting customers and taking extra efforts to clean and sanitize their stores. My experience, so far, is that most stores are motivated to help you continue to shop with them.  Call and find out what is true for your particular store, especially if you want them to survive.  

In a more personal vein, check in over the phone, via FaceTime or Skype, with family members located near and far from you.  If we’re doing this right, we’re steering clear of everyone. There is a tragic example of a family gathering turning tragic in New Jersey.  So far, four members of a large family have died (including the matriarch), and three remain hospitalized after their usual Sunday family dinner a few weeks ago. We would like to think that family members are the exception to the “safe distancing” rule, but that’s not the case. Even loving couples need to be ready to have one member isolated in another room or area of the house (think basement or RV), if symptoms should develop.  

Here in the South, religious worship is often central to personal or family life. At stressful times, it can be a source of comfort and inspiration, as well as practical support.  If that is the case, find out what is available for your faith or denomination. If your religious leaders/elders are not tech-savvy and you are, help them to set up streaming via a smart phone or a more sophisticated recording device. Decide on the viewing platform and send out the word to your worship community.  

In general, religious services can be accessed via Facebook, YouTube, or your house of worship’s website.  Call your relevant contact number to find out if local services will be streaming, as staying with your familiar religious leader can be very comforting.

There is also a national shortage on all types of blood. Donations are needed to meet the medical needs of our local community. MEDIC Regional Blood Center operates a donor center at 79 N. Main St. Call 931-337-0800 for an appointment and safe distancing between donors.

Last word, think about how many people you are protecting, known and unknown, when you take precautions.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, from the CDC said, “Pretend that you are infectious, and that you are trying to keep from infecting others.”  

Some people might need to think, “Everyone out there is potentially infectious, and I don’t want to be the next casualty.”  

We are truly all in this together, and we will all try hard to consider the well-being of others, as well as our own.

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Sabina Coronado is a Cumberland County resident and retired psychologist.