Pandemic doesn’t mean panic. It means be SSMART.”
Find copies of the poster for printing and sharing here.
This started with a Facebook post made during an online meeting last week. I’ve been really, truly, deeply concerned (read “alarmed”) by much of the panic and fear that is surrounding me on social media. I’m seeing fear-focused messages create situations that cause harm to others, and which can potentially cause harm to yourself. There are a lot of blogposts I want to be writing related to this, but I’m going to start here, with that original Facebook post:
Pandemic doesn’t mean panic. It Means Be SSMART!
What is being smart, in this context? I’m giving these mental hooks as places to start:
SSMART = Sanitary, Social Distance, Methodical, Aware, Responsible, Thoughtful.
Let’s start with a plain language version of what those might mean, and then do a deeper dive. The following text is copied from the image at the head of the post, for those working from a screenreader.
SSMART (Plain Language Version)
East or West, SOAP is best! What soap? Any soap you like. If you can’t get soap, then high-alcohol hand sanitizer (>60%) or bleach wipes will do. It’s especially important to wash hands after visiting the bathroom.
The elbow bump is SO last month! These days social distance means 6-10 feet, or 2-3 yards or meters. If you can reach out and touch fingertips? Yeah, that’s too close. Back up a bit, friend.
Just like we do our laundry regularly, making hand-washing and social distancing a habit is one of the best ways to keep you and your loved ones safe.
If you are feeling good, sure you can go for a walk. Just remember social distance, walk in nature not around people! And look out for those people who aren’t watching where they are (or their dogs).
Parents take care of children. Grown-up children take care of their parents. Friends take care of friends. We all watch out for each other. This isn’t about me, or you, it’s about all of us. We all know someone who is at risk, probably someone we love. Right now, each time we wash our hands or skip a party, it’s about keeping others safe.
Helping others stay calm can help us stay calm, too. Checking the source of that news story or web site might make you wonder if it’s actually true. If we talk a lot about how scared we are, we might end up scaring other people around us even more. Who’s listening to what we say? What do we want them to hear? Does what we say help them, too, or make things worse? Stop. Think first. Then share.
The Deep Dive — More Thoughts on These
More Thoughts on SANITARY
All the fuss about hand sanitizer? Yeah. No. Soap works better. Soap is like a grenade for the coronavirus, just destroys it. And people who are cleaning their home personal space to an extraordinary degree? I have nothing against doing this, as long as you recognize that this is largely a way to comfort yourself, and probably not terribly practical for actually managing your risk of catching the virus. That is, of course, unless you have someone in your home who is either at high risk or ill, and you are trying to manage their germs or their exposure to germs. For my home, it is filled with my usual germs, and while, yes, it needs a good cleaning, coronavirus is not why it needs cleaning.
I’ve encountered people who believe witch hazel will be better than alcohol for sanitization, people who believe that antibiotics are better than antivirals, people who don’t understand the difference between different kinds of sanitizers, and similar misunderstandings or misconceptions. If you’re interested, we can take more time to discuss these, but what you really really need to know is that there is one very clear winner for what stops coronaviruses before they get inside you, and that is SOAP.
Regarding coronaviruses on surfaces, there’s also been a lot of confusion and hype. There was an article that the media picked up and misinterpreted a couple weeks ago that talked about how long coronaviruses last on different surfaces. The methodology wasn’t reported well or clearly, so I have some concerns about the quality of that study, but the media latched onto one idea — the 9 days part — and ran with it, implying that if someone coughs outside or in an office the surface is infectious for weeks. NOT TRUE. If you actually read the article, what it really said is:
(a) in a hospital room where a patient with a coronavirus infection of any sort (not just COVID-19) has had a procedure done (such as being intubated) the virus can possibly last a long time on surfaces that aren’t properly cleaned, but we don’t know if it’s infectious or not; and
(b) the only intervention shown to make a real difference in transmission in a pandemic situation is more hand washing stations. In the hospital. Specifically in the Emergency Department.
So, please, unless a sick person was intubated in your dining room or something like that, you don’t need to go do an extreme cleaning your house. Clean, yes, but don’t get anxious over it.
More Thoughts on SOCIAL DISTANCE
What is social distance? First, this basically is being used to mean too far to touch if you both tried really hard, and then add a bit more. Ten feet is ideal, but unrealistic. Six feet is more realistic. It’s not about touching, though, it’s about coughing, and how far the droplets travel in the air. If you have short arms, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to get closer to people, because you still cough and breathe just like everyone else.
Secondly, the phrase being used is “social distance” but really they are talking about PHYSICAL distance. It’s fine to talk over Skype with a friend. Socializing is necessary and healthy, just keep our physical bodies away from other people.
This is less critical for SOME people, in some situations. If you are at home, in your own house, with the same people who live there all the time, you don’t need to keep social distance as much, unless someone is sick. If one person gets sick then they need to be quarantined, and then EVERYONE in the house needs to also observe the quarantine, unless they have been keeping social distance. I’m currently quarantined, and for us, this means my son can’t go to work. Bummer, but that’s how it works. Even though his job mostly involves working with soap.
More Thoughts on METHODICAL
This is not easy stuff to do. To actually do it, you have to make it a habit, and build it in. You can help build the habits by adopting behaviors that cut down on opportunities to do your usual thing. Don’t want to touch your face with your hands? Put your hands in your pockets, or do something to keep them busy. Finding yourself tempted to give a friend a hug? Maybe visit virtually instead of in person.
For example, let’s say you have a dog that needs to be walked. You can do this, honestly. Even if you are quarantined, but only have mild symptoms, if you wash your hands and face first, wear a good mask and a pair of gloves, and walk the dog in a nature area away from other people, you can walk the dog and not put others at risk. This is especially true if you go walking very early in the morning or late at night, when other people tend to not be out. But if you live on a crowded busy street, and go walk the dog during rush hour, you have a situation and environment where it becomes very hard to keep away from other people, especially if they don’t understand the limitations we’re talking about. My son was walking our dog, and a woman holding a baby in her arms stopped to try to talk to him. Very sweet, but … no. Let’s just not do that.
So when you are building your habits — the habit of handwashing, the habit of soap, the habit of social distancing — build habits that are smart and include things like time of day, your environment, what your neighbors typically do, and things like this. Build habits that protect everyone, not just you.
More Thoughts on AWARE
This could be a big section, so I’ll try to restrain myself.
Part of this is being aware of people around you, your local environment. As you try to practice social distance, is someone walking up behind you? Who’s ahead of you, and how far away are they? How well behaved is that dog on the leash? That child they hold by the hand, are they trying to get loose and run? Is someone about to cross the street coming towards you?
Part of this is being self-aware, of what’s going on in your body, of the people around you. How are your neighbors doing, who needs someone to check in on them? That little tickle in your throat? Did you cough once or twice? How are you using social media and reading the news, and how is it making you feel? Do you need to take a break for your mental health?
Part of this is being aware of what information is coming out that could change our understanding of the situation. Check the date of this blogpost, and have I updated it (I would say so at the top). If it’s been a few days or longer, the best information might have changed. Right now, with the COVID-19 situation, information is changing so fast no one can entirely keep on top of it, even the experts. Because of this, you may get very different information on the same day from different medical professionals. Don’t just take what you hear for granted, especially if it will make a difference to what you do in your life or how you might put a loved one at risk. Check out more details, ask questions, try to find someone you trust to find out and make sense of it. Most of all, don’t assume anything, don’t take what you hear on face value. Look for authoritative sources who agree on it. Try to find at least three trusted sources saying the same thing, and who get their own information from different places. If the recommendation is all based on pieces that cite the same article, that counts as ONE information source, not three. (I’m thinking of that 9-day figure that freaked people out last week, and was promoted in dozens of news articles.)
More Thoughts on RESPONSIBLE
You heard this from other people. This isn’t about any individual. That’s hard for Americans to hear, land of cowboys and free ranges, frontier heroes. I’m remembering the song from Oklahoma, The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends. In those difficult times, we needed people who were community focused, and those who were out on the edge doing something valuable but alone. We still need both kinds of people, but deciding that it is your personal individual right to go to a party and be wild does not make you a cowman, it just makes you a fool. Don’t be that person. Sure, stand up for your own rights, but think carefully about what those are, and how they impact on the people around you. Right now, if you go to a party, and come back, even if you don’t get sick, you could pass along the virus to someone else, who passes it along to their friend, who passes it along to the dad with cancer, or kid with type-one-diabetes, or their grandma, and that person becomes the one who doesn’t make it. Do you want that on your conscience? Actually, someone who would do that will probably just say, “You can’t prove they got it from me. They could have gotten it anywhere!” Right.
More Thoughts on THOUGHTFUL
Most people want to help, and be helpful. But what people are doing to help, isn’t always actually helping. There’s a lot of sharing of misinformation. I just discovered this great resource which is collecting high quality evidence resources right along many of the myths and legends of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
FirstDraft: Find information about coronavirus (Covid-19)
As people have been coming to me with questions, I’ve been doing my own research on each one, and it turns out this will actually handle most of the questions I’ve gotten! YAY! So, check here first, before you share that video you found on how hair dryers can cure your COVID-19 illness. No, they can’t, and even worse, they spread the virus all over everything! Do you really want to be sharing something that will make more people sick? I didn’t think so.
What leaps to mind today are the news articles around the new Imperial UK report that is making so many headlines. If you read the report, it’s scary enough without the way the headlines are presenting it. Most of the headlines I’ve seen say something like we’ll have to socially isolate for 18 months or else, and use language like “chilling,” “drastic,” “draconian,” “staggering.” That’s just going to make every one feel so great, isn’t it? More like feeding despair and hopelessness, and those won’t lead anywhere good for anyone.
What’s the alternative? Well, if we see journalists going for clickbait, look for other journalists talking about the same story. Check out this more balanced piece by John Timmer at Ars Technica or the more positively phrased Atlantic piece by actual doctors, “This is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus.” In general, you might want to bookmark and scan another great Ars Technica COVID-19 resource, “Don’t Panic.” These discuss the assumptions underneath the predictions, and what sort of changes could make a difference to these estimates.
You can also find a mix of hyperbolic and well reasoned thought on social media. You want to be careful, and you want to intentionally look for people providing different views. This thread from Jeremy C. Young has a long discussion, which highlights a point I haven’t seen in any of the news stories — that even the worst case scenario is on-again, off-again, not that we stay in seclusion for 18 months straight!
So stop and think about what you are reading, and what you are sharing. Think about who is listening to you, and are you making it worse or better for others?
Social Distance: https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-jrfol
Responsible: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=111574&picture=father-and-son-silhouetteThoughtful: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=188584&picture=man-reading