Today Ethiopia closed all its schools.
Today Kenya closed its borders to incoming traffic from any country with reported covid-19 cases.
Somewhere in Ethiopia right now are 35 Italian tourists who refused to go back home after their visas expired.
How do we show love to each other–to neighbors, classmates, colleagues–when the entire world is rushing towards lock-down?
People are affectionate and love each other the world over, but in Ethiopia it’s a very tangible thing. People here love each other with endearing physicality, even if you’ve just met.
This is not a community who will take to social distancing very well. From giving gorsha to a friend, to gathering in sacred places, to kissing and shaking hands in greeting, Ethiopians will have to radically and painfully change their social habits in the face of Covid-19.
According to my observations, babies in Ethiopia are the best-kissed in the world.
On Friday the 13th, Ethiopia announced it’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, and four more cases are pending. So now we begin.
There’s a lot of fear and misinformation surrounding this latest virus, and I’ve been trying to educate myself a bit about it. Loving people near to you right now means making sure they have accurate and timely information. Loving people right now means being willing to restrict our own desires and freedoms in order to protect each other. It means following the protocols put in place by local and national authorities.
To this end, I gave a training to our staff and guards last week. In my research into the current health care crisis, one thing that I learned was the importance of evaluating information and only listening to people who are authorized to speak on the subject.
I’m not a health expert. On a scale of 1 to 10, one being people you should disregard as non-experts and 10 being the WHO (World Health Organization, whose Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, is Ethiopian), I’m probably about a 2 or 3. It’s important to listen to qualified health experts giving accurate information.
So with that disclaimer, I will reproduce my staff training for dealing with covid-19. I am trying to be as up to date and as accurate as possible, and will provide links to sources of my information. Dear readers, if I misrepresent something, please let me know.
- What is covid-19? This is a fast spreading corona virus that infects your lungs. It is new, and has not infected humans before so our immune system is not familiar with it. It is a type of virus that normally lives in animals, but mutated and jumped to humans, like the bird flu or the deadly flu of 1918. It crossed over into human hosts in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, probably from a live animal market. It is not bacterial, and taking antibiotics will not cure it. There is no cure for covid-19. The name of the illness caused by the corona virus: co for corona (named for the spikes on the outside of the virus, making it look like a crown); vi for virus; d for disease; and 19 for 2019, when this strain first appeared.
- How bad is it? If you are healthy and young (under 50) and have no preexisting respiratory or other chronic illness, you have a lesser chance of getting sick from this virus. Children do not get very sick from it. Your parents and grandparents and people with weak immune systems are the ones who are at greater risk. This chart breaks down live cases by age. The danger that comes from this disease if how quickly it spreads and how many people it can infect. If one in 10 (or some sources say 2 in 10) people who get covid-19 needs to be hospitalized, and the numbers aren’t kept down, then hospitals and health systems will be overrun. If hospitals are full with covid-19 patients and you (or your wife) is pregnant and needs to deliver the baby, or your child breaks a leg, or you get appendicitis, what will happen?
- How does it spread? This is an airborne virus, which means that it lives in droplets of water that are expelled from a sick person’s lungs when they breath, cough, or sneeze. Those droplets can enter someone’s nose or mouth, or they can live on surfaces (2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel) and enter your system when you pick them up on your hands and touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. The virus can spread from people who look perfectly healthy and do not know that they are carrying the virus. Many people can carry the virus without even getting sick, so it is hard to know how many people have it.
- How quickly does it spread? To talk about this question, we played a math game with the staff. I set out a chess board and told them the story of an Indian king who loved playing chess. One day the god Krishna came to the king in disguise and challenged him to a game of chess. The king offered a gift if his opponent won the game. He did. The gift? Krishna asked the king for a grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the chess board, and doubled on every square. I asked our staff if they thought that was a reasonable request, and they thought yes, it would be fitting. A nice amount of rice, but not too extravagant. Now, instead of rice, let’s say that the chessboard represents covid-19. Each person infected with the virus can infect two or three other people. Each square represents three days, approximately the time it takes for the infection to spread. For the sake of illustration, let’s say that without any intervention, the virus will double itself every three days. We started working through the exponential spread, using the chess board.
So by day 52 (assuming each square is a three-day period) this illness, starting with one infected person, could theoretically infect over half a million people. If even only 1 out of 10 infected people needs hospital care and possibly a ventilator, in less than two months there could be more than 52,000 people who need medical care. Hospitals and health care professionals will be overwhelmed. This is where the real danger of this illness lies.
5. That’s why it’s important to “Flatten the Curve“.
This is one of the most important things to understand about this new disease. If we do nothing, we risk overwhelming the health care options available to us. If hospitals are full with covid-19 patients and you (or your wife) is pregnant and needs to deliver the baby, or your child breaks a leg, or you get appendicitis, what will happen? Not only will people with covid-19 die because there are too many to be treated, but others seeking routine or emergency health care will die for the same reasons. This is a risk we all share together, and we can all do important things to bring down the number of cases to a manageable level–to flatten the curve so we don’t outstrip the capacity of hospitals to deal with it.
6. What can I do to protect myself and the vulnerable people in my community? Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. For 20 seconds. Simple soap and water will do. Don’t touch your face, which can transfer the virus from your hands to your lungs through your nose or mouth. Disinfect surfaces and places people touch a lot–cell phones, computers, door handles, sink faucets, toilet seats and flushers. Disinfect flat surfaces that may collect drops of liquid from people coughing or sneezing. Disinfect car door handles and steering wheels. If you can, avoid using public transportation. Avoid other crowded places, like meetings, schools, public events and churches (if they have not already been cancelled). If you can, work from home. Social distancing means that you keep away from crowds and try to keep space–about five feet–between you and other people. If you go to a market of store, try to do it at a time when there are not a lot of other people there. Social distancing is not the same thing as a quarantine, which means that you stay inside and away from other people. If your local or federal government shuts down events and imposes quarantines, please follow the guidelines.
7. And a final word about pets. To date, there is no evidence that you can get covid-19 from your dog, or that pets can get it and get sick. So go ahead and love on your animal.
But I would never recommend kissing your dog! That’s just gross!
Stay patient, stay sane, and stay well. Reach out to someone who may not be able to leave home, who may feel afraid and isolated. If you feel this way yourself, don’t hesitate to call or message a friend and talk about it. If you get sick, remember that for most people, covid-19 is a relatively mild illness. If you are one of the people for whom it is severe, take courage and reach out to your community network of friends and family. My prayer is that this disease can bring us closer in love rather than isolate us in fear.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
2 Timothy 1:7