Jack Knox: Think COVID-19 is no big deal? It’s not about you

Clean hands?

They want to see clean hands?

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The entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t scrubbed up as much as you have in the past few days. Thoroughly, too, maybe even following one of those 13-pictogram charts showing proper technique. (At washyourlyrics.com, you can generate a sing-along hand-washing poster with the words to your favourite song.)

Alas, not everyone has your kind of anti-virus vigour. When you went shopping yesterday, the customer next to you, the one sniffling and snuffling like Typhoid Mary, groped every avocado in the aisle before putting them back in the bin, covered in whatever was on her fingers. So you did the logical thing and had her banished to the old leper colony at Bentinck Island, off Metchosin.

This is our conundrum: even as many strive to prevent, or at least slow, the spread of COVID-19 (note that when Washington state residents voted in this week’s presidential primary, officials urged them not to lick the envelopes containing the mail-in ballots) others act as though there’s no problem at all. (Anyone see that video of the guy repeatedly sipping out of the soup ladle at a U.S. buffet?)

Maybe these latter people feel the virus is not that big a deal, that even if they contract the disease it’s not likely to put much of a dent in their otherwise good health. Maybe you feel the same way. If so, you need to remember this: it’s not about you.

All the preventive measures we’re being urged to take aren’t so much about saving you, personally, from getting sick as they are about trying to cut off what Dr. Bonnie Henry calls chains of transmission — to stop COVID-19 from jumping from contact to contact, like an island-hopping predator, until it lands somewhere like the care homes in Seattle and North Vancouver where it has already proven fatal. It’s about ensuring you aren’t one of those islands. It’s about protecting your friends and relatives.

I got a call Wednesday from Ruby Attwood, a 90-year-old resident of Victoria’s Rose Manor. Having awakened at 2 a.m., an hour when scary thoughts tend to creep in — particularly during troubling times like these — Ruby decided to counter the grimness by writing a COVID-19 song. Her friends got a kick out of it, and urged her to send it along.

Sung to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It, it went like this:

They say it’s getting closer by the minute/

And gosh before you know it we’ll be in it./

You stay in isolation for the two-week incubation/

Or you may not have the choice to sink or swim it.”

It goes on in that vein (including a line about “load up on the booze” to which the more abstemious persuaded her to add “ginger ale,” even though it tripped up the rhythm) before finishing with the chorus:

“If you want to skip the virus/

Wash your hands, wash your hands/

They say it’s now in Italy and Iran/

Wash your hands/

And folks won’t think you’re crazy/

If you do a bumpsadaisy/

Instead of kissing cheeks or shaking hands./

Just wash your hands.

Solid advice from the generation that survived the Depression and the war, and that is now susceptible to the coronavirus, but somehow retained both its common sense and its sense of humour.

Actually, Ruby says, the two are related. We need that humour to help find the line between prudence and panic, to avoid the irrational behaviour that fear and hysteria spawn.

In other words, if you really want help, forget hoarding toilet paper, remember hygiene basics:

• Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use your sleeve, not your hands.

• Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t go to work, or school, or anywhere else, particularly care homes, hospitals, or other places where vulnerable people are.

• Stay away from others. Engage in what Henry called social distancing. (“This is not forever,” she said Wednesday. “This is for the coming weeks.”)

• Don’t touch your face.

• The virus can live on surfaces for several hours, but normal household cleaning products are good at dealing with it, so use them.

• Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Not just a quick splash, either. Keep scrubbing for a couple of verses of a song. You might want to download the words at washyourlyrics.com, or maybe sing Ruby Attwood’s tune.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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