The risks are real – and not just what you think!

My work day just ended.  It is after 7:00 in the evening, and my work began before 7:00 this morning, with a short break for lunch.  I am now working from home every day, as our university system is rapidly closing campuses to slow the spread of COVID-19.  We are largely self-isolating, as my mother is in her eighties and therefore at high risk.  The animals necessitate trips to the feed store, but that will make up the bulk of any trips away from home.  The isolation will be very little burden to us, but my daily workload is proof that there is a crisis brewing.  I am writing this in the hopes of explaining it to anyone who still does not understand.

Most of the people in our social circles, real and virtual, are in some form of isolation at this moment.  The people I talk to are now, if not previously, recognizing that this situation is unprecedented in our lives.  However, just today, my mother was reading about many instances where people defied the recommendations and had large gatherings.  College students are having large parties to celebrate not having to go to classes.  People are mobbing bars, even those that are open in defiance of their city’s directive to close.

Clearly many people are still seeing this as an unimportant event – or themselves as immune to it.  Even someone we’ve considered a casual friend shrugged and said, “It’s all political anyway.  Besides, I’m not at risk.  It’s old people and those already sick.”  This in front of my over 80 mother who has asthma.  A usually nice person, but obviously clueless to the impact she could have on people she apparently likes.  She is clearly not alone out there.

If there is one thing anyone who knows me will tell you, it is that I am cool in a crisis.  I have often even annoyed others at my lack of overt reaction to a bad situation.  So it should be no surprise that this situation has not rattled me.  Take rational precautions, follow the guidelines, and the odds are in our favor.  However, the focus is so much on this particular virus, and whether individual decide they are specifically at risk, that they may have missed what I am living every day.  The real risk is not the virus – it is the strain it is already putting on our health care system.

I work in supply chain management at the University of California.  We are arguably a leading educational system, particularly in the field of health care.  Every day since last week has been filled with managing the supply challenges we are facing in our various locations.  We are in the early weeks of the reaction to this virus, and here are just some of the things we are facing:

  • Our system’s hospitals are struggling to get personal protection items – masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc.  Hospital personnel need these not only to protect themselves, but to protect their patients.  This means that they will be stressed to react to the virus outbreak, but it also means that they will be strained to handle other life threatening injuries and illness.  So, you young folks who feel you aren’t at risk for the virus – be sure that you don’t get in an auto accident, get shot, or any other life threatening injury!
  • Due to lack of important supplies, as well as the shut down of the campuses, research projects are beginning to be closed down.  Those deemed critical (such as researching this virus) will be given priority for the limited resources that can be obtained.  So, those who feel that you are immune to this virus, I hope that you or your family do not encounter another health problem that these halted research projects might have been able to help!
  • Students will be consigned to online learning for the next term.  This includes students who would normally be learning in a lab situation.  Apparently some of them are celebrating by risking spreading the virus through their communities.  The rest of us have to hope that they do not miss some important aspects of their education because they don’t get hands-on experience, or learn to ‘game’ the online learning they will be engaging in (easier than you might imagine), especially their finals.  These party goers could be our health care providers of the future, heaven help us.

This is just what my university system is experiencing – but I can guarantee it is being echoed across the country, and even across the globe.  And we are only at the beginning of this outbreak in the U.S.

On one level, COVID-19 will eventually be just another virus.  People will get it, as we do the flu now.  There will hopefully be a vaccine (although one doctor rightly pointed out that they’ve tried to find one for the cold, another member of the corona virus family, with no success).  Some members of the population are more at risk than others – so everyone’s risk is certainly not the same.  But everyone should take seriously the impact this is already having on the health care system.  This can effect you, even if you never get the virus.  The young are not immune to accidents, criminal attacks, cancer, or any number of other things that drive people to the emergency room.  You are not immune – and one day you will be the older person watching callous youth devaluing your life!

The attitude that since only the old are at risk, the rest of us are fine, is not only disregarding the elderly – it is disregarding the entire medical profession upon which we all rely.  The reports out of Italy, where doctors are having to make heart wrenching decisions on who gets the limited supplies they have, make me weep.  I have known medical workers my whole life – many friends and family members are in those vocations.  I know how seriously they take their role in saving lives.  I can well imagine the toll those decisions are taking on those doctors.  Those of us who live with animals have had to make that painful decision to let an animal go.  That responsibility never leaves your heart.  We should not wish that sort of burden on anyone!

I am feeling lucky in this time of isolation.  Where others are stuck in houses, I have acreage to walk.  Where others are left with videos and board games, I have horses, gardening, and projects to fill my down time.  Where others crave a social life, parties, concerts, etc., I have always reveled in Nature and quiet time.  I feel for my friends who are not so lucky.

I have several other posts started – more inline with my usual equine subject matter.  I am hoping that this increased time at home (no commute, yay!) will give me more time with the horses and therefore more inspiration to restart this blog.

Stay safe out there.  Be smart.  Take this situation seriously, but don’t panic.  And try to recognize that this situation puts all of us at risk.

Be good to each other!



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