I write to you safe and sound from my home in Bedford, having returned safely from a three-week business trip to Gazzaniga, Italy on January 31, a day on which the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in a couple who had flown into the country through the same airport through which I was departing.
The Italian Prime Minister declared an emergency that day, immediately suspended all flights to and from China, and began screening everyone arriving in Italy via airplane. Within 26 days, that couple and a friend were discharged from the hospital, but by then there were 397 additional infected people, 12 of whom had died.
Thus began the exponential explosion which continues to this day in Italy. The first U.S. infection had already happened, but our first death was still a month away. Innocent times, save for my daily conference call with colleagues back in Gazzaniga, who continue to provide a glimpse into a near-future which no longer seems theoretical.
Two short weeks ago, the report was about how eerie the roads were: “Morning rush hour looks like Sunday traffic.” Today, we were treated to a picture from the local paper of a fleet of military trucks rolling down the main street of a nearby town.
The National Guard coming to the rescue? No, the Army taking away dead bodies which the overwhelmed crematoria no longer have the capacity to deal with. The safety net for people with injuries or other diseases is gone. And the exponential explosion of suffering continues unabated.
I’m proud of the efforts taken locally to implement the only measures that are currently effective in fighting a highly contagious virus for which there are no medications and no vaccine.
I believe [our] local efforts have outpaced those at the state level and that the states are running circles around our woefully unprepared federal government. The little decisions we each make in the dark days ahead will have major impacts. Look no further than the single Patient 31 in Korea to whom thousands of infections can be traced back. The vast majority of us remain healthy. Each of us that manages to stay that way will be one less burden on a healthcare system that will be overwhelmed and which will inevitably fail to save lives of people with COVID-19 and of people for whom there is no longer room at a hospital.
I recently started co-teaching a human sexuality class attended by 16 local kids. The class features an anonymous question box, allowing students to ask questions which might be hard to vocalize in person. The majority of the questions are about human sexuality and I respect the trust placed in me too much to share them outside of class. But during our first (and only) in-person session two weeks ago, one student submitted a simple procedural question: “Why are we having class when we could be spreading coronavirus?” I’m ready to answer, “We’re not.”
The world is different than it was two weeks ago. And it will look just as different two weeks from now.
Please be safe. Please resist the natural instinct to continue life as usual and be in close contact with others. I think “You Two Weeks From Now” will look back and think You Today made the right move.