Stay Home, Stay Safe

A friend asked me some time ago to write a piece and contribute to this community. I wanted to but didn’t feel like I had the authority or experience to write about anything in particular. In recent weeks, Covid-19 and its wider impact has touched every part of society and I couldn’t help but think about how I could play a part in this current situation and share some perspectives. I don’t want to preach or lecture – I don’t have the authority to do that. But I can’t watch events unfold without taking action, however small this action might be.

A bit about me – I am an Economist by background and have spent most of my career in the private sector and I am currently working for the NHS. Healthcare has always been an interest of mine and I made the jump to try and contribute. I do not have any medical qualifications, nor have I experienced the intensity and pressures of working in a hospital. I understand data and I care. Perhaps that is my qualification to write this piece.

In the interests of keeping this short, I don’t want to repeat facts from the many other articles out there. I want to convey 3 key messages:

1) Why we need to act now to save lives

2) What happens when we do act now

3) What steps can we take to protect our mental health during this time of uncertainty

For those interested in the data, I have included the links to articles I found interesting at the end.

1) Why we need to act now to save lives

We are facing a global and unprecedented pandemic, coupled with a universal healthcare crisis. When you look at the number and rate of deaths in the UK, we are very close to following the same curve in Italy, where the number of cases has reached 53,578 and 4,825 deaths (as of 22nd March). We have a similar sized population, although arguably Italy has a higher proportion of over 70s. Nonetheless, the message is the same – what is happening is serious. This is not like the flu (let’s just stop that rumour right there!). The healthcare system prepares for the winter flu each year (including staffing and bed capacity) and we have a vaccine to limit the spread. This is not the flu – our healthcare system like those around the world did not have months to spend preparing for this. It hit us all too quickly.

If we, as individuals and as a society, don’t take the right measures now, thousands and in some countries, millions, of people are at risk of premature death. The more people that are infected, the more the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed and unable to respond to “business as usual” situations. An ambulance for a cardiac patient in critical condition will take longer to come. A&Es and ICUs won’t have bed capacity, and that’s assuming hospitals have doctors and nurses who are able to work in the first place.

When we interact with others, be that a neighbour, a barista serving you a takeaway coffee, friends and family over a shared takeaway or a game of football in the park (the list goes on), we risk infecting them or them infecting us (we may have symptoms but not know it) – we then carry that risk with us for the rest of the day, as we go about our normal business. Meanwhile at the local hospital, doctors and nurses are overwhelmed by the increased demand for services. You may have seen the NHS photo that is doing the rounds – “We stay here for you, please stay home for us”. This cannot be said or shared enough.

So in summary: This is serious, do what you can and act now. Stay at home.

Source: Triangle News

2) What happens when we do act now

So I hear you ask, why should I stay at home? I know people who feel ridiculed by others for social distancing. I understand workers who don’t have contracts and small businesses are under pressure, real pressure, financially. But I think we need to adopt a long term mindset for assessing this problem, rather than thinking in terms of days or weeks. If we don’t take action now, the problem will only be intensified and prolonged, with the number of deaths in the end, being far higher than they needed to be.

Short term pain will lead to a long term gain – we need to buy time, and that is what staying at home gives us. If everyone were to practice social distancing, in its strictest sense, the number of coronavirus cases confirmed each day will reduce, giving much needed relief to NHS workers. The death rate will reduce, and importantly those healthcare workers who have already isolated themselves will be able to recover and return to work. Equally supply chains (for medical equipment, medicines, food) will have time to adjust – incorporating unpredicted demand and increasing workforce to allow them to fulfil their supply chain activities.

I have heard people have gone to pubs, cafes, restaurants, and justified it by saying if they don’t’ go now they won’t be able to go for some time. Surely by going, we’re just encouraging the virus to spread, especially as many people are likely to be carrying the symptoms without even knowing it.

To any local businesses that are reading this – the best thing you can do for yourselves, your families and your customers is to close. This will be temporary. And communities will come together during and after this crisis passes to support you. They really will.

Stay at home – we need to buy time so the system has a chance to respond. In a week or month’s time, no one will ridicule you any longer.

3) What steps can we take to protect our mental health during this time of uncertainty

What hasn’t been covered in too much detail yet is the expected implications of social distancing and self-isolating on the nation’s mental health. Given the uncertainty and potential for panic mongering out there, it is likely that there will be an increase in anxiety and depression, severe mental illness etc. The elderly and vulnerable who have been asked to stay at home for up to 12 weeks are particularly at risk. It is important to do what we can and pull together (from a distance!) as friends, families, neighbours, and communities and support one another to get through the upcoming days, weeks and months – they will be challenging, but we are in this together and we can help each other. Below are some ideas of simple things you and your loved ones can do over the coming days to keep a healthy mind – this will become more and more important over time. Remember we can only control what we can, it’s important to let the other stuff go.

  • Apps like Calm and Headspace have lots of materials to help with meditation and sleep – they both offer free trials.

  • Journal and write down what’s worrying you.

  • Exercise – even if it's for 15 mins a day – move your body and burn off that stress and worry.

  • We may be physically apart but let’s make a point of “seeing” friends and families with apps like FaceTime, Google Hangout, Zoom, HouseParty. Pick up the phone and call people. Write letters.

  • Try and eat healthily and in moderation – and if you need chocolate, have it!

  • Be kind to yourself and others during this difficult time.

  • Visit the NHS England website for resources on mental health, including the recent “Every Mind Matters” campaign from Public Health England and the NHS.

In summary, keep calm but don’t carry on. Use this time to pause, rest and recover. Learn new ways to pass the time (Read. Pick up yoga. Play with your kids. Bake. Cook. Clean. Dance). Most importantly be kind to yourself. Stay healthy and well.


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