April 2, 2020
Good morning MDIBL,
Today the Stay Healthy at Home Mandate begins in Maine. This is a major decision from Governor Mills and affects all of us. It is not only a government decision which interferes with our daily life but even more it interferes with our democratic right to meet and to assemble. I can imagine that it was not an easy decision to make in Augusta.
So, why now? I believe it was mostly influenced by the dramatic numbers of infected patients and the rising death rates in other parts of the country. There is a desperate wish to protect the people of Maine. I am fully behind her. However, we also must have a serious discussion about health issues: how can we best protect ourselves, how do we manage work and daily life, when and how will the ban be lifted and is it justified to limit our freedom?
This discussion is taking place world-wide and it is necessary at this time. In Hungary, two days ago, the parliament gave their president permission to rule without their input for the next year. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel is criticized for keeping us all at home until well after Easter. Globally, industry is raising the question: how much is too much? They speculate that perhaps the cure is worse than the disease.
It is very difficult, although tempting, to make predictions about the future. We just do not know enough about the virus and its behavior in the community. However, when we look at the last three months, I believe we can draw, with all caution, several conclusions:
- Social distancing and hygiene work and can prevent a serious outbreak of the disease in most communities. Not only in Hancock County, but in most areas around the world where these rules have been introduced, and where people follow the rules, the numbers of people infected are lower. After two weeks we can see that there is no wave in areas where these rules have been followed. In Hannover, the number of patients is stable in ICU at 32, and in Berlin we have 47 patients in ICU, the same number we had 3 days ago. In fact, the way people behave in Germany, it is difficult to get near somebody.
- As I mentioned yesterday, if we had acted more quickly the tremendous outbreaks in larger cities may not have happened. The drastic measures by governments all around the globe are still important and may help to further curtail the virus, however, from what we can see, social distancing and hand washing has already worked. It takes 3-5 days to develop symptoms. If we have stable numbers now the chances that these numbers will change is small. However, to stay safe these precautions must stay in place for the next few months. Not the curfews and isolation restrictions, but the hand washing and social distancing.
- This brings us to the question of how we get back to a normal life. How do we return to work, go to restaurants, have dinner with friends? This will depend on whether social distancing and hygiene are possible, at work, and in restaurants, and in social gatherings. Only then will people feel safe. It is very important to understand and communicate that if you adhere to these rules you are safe. I assume that going back to work will be first. Employers have to make sure that distancing is possible. Schools will follow. The big question is how can we make sure children keep to social distancing rules? How will that work in a daycare setting?
- This is the reason I think masks will be so important. We have endless discussions about the efficacy of masks. The crucial point is that when you wear a mask you protect your neighbor and you give the message, “I care about you”. You also give the message that you are aware of the disease and that you are afraid. Yesterday I was asked by one of the cleaning staff in the hospital when I put on my mask, “Oh, you are afraid?” and I said, “Yes”. It was a strange feeling.
So, even while the most drastic measures take place and most of us are at home, we have started the discussion about how to come back. However, it will be a long time before I sit among friends in a bar or restaurant, rubbing shoulders, without thinking about viruses.