Our CSE, Kat Lind, has been working with a high-level group from our Global Security Watch for many years. The last 12 months have been especially challenging for our personnel, due to the high number of requests for risk, disease spread, business continuity planning, and other risk projections and mitigation strategies.
As of today, we have run over 320M models to try to help government agencies and ministries, businesses, and other organizations try to clarify the challenges that we face today. Most of that data and the findings from the analyses are confidential. However, there are some cases that allow us to pass the information on to others.
What follows is a document that our CSE composed that we can share, although there was some pushback initially against just handing the info out.
None of us at SIL are medical specialists. We work with data. To us, the data speaks for itself. We do complex modeling, millions of analyses every year, and have for decades. This information is what we are working with for ourselves and our families. We hope that it will provide some of you with another source of thoughtful input.
I was asked by the high-level Security Council to which I belong to put together a set of policies and procedures for individual households dealing with the growing pandemic. Taking input from the rest of the members of my global security group, I created a set of policies and procedures that would be put into place for my own household. Some of them may not work for you, but the reasons behind each one come from people who are experts in the field of infectious diseases and different types of vulnerabilities.
Although I was maneuvered into producing the document because of the many things I write during the year, several other reasons were used to convince me to tackle something that is going to be an effort that will bring arguments and criticisms rather than thanks.
The write up I was asked to do was for those in our population that not only wanted to be given something that would help but told plainly what was the reason behind the suggestion.
I want to clearly state here that I am not a medical professional. I am a security person, someone who models complex situations, such as security incursion patterns, impacts on businesses of natural disasters and new products, or contagion models that examine marketing trends and the spread of diseases. Generally, I get a lot of data and put it together, before analyzing it for vulnerability and probabilities.
Translated into ordinary, everyday language, that means that I am used to talking to real people, rather than just to those with science degrees. Much of what I have done for decades is to translate the highly technical into something that makes sense to the people making decisions.
My security group told me that my ability to translate from that complexity into something that would allow people to make decisions is precisely what they needed. When they requested that I do this write-up, they told me they were going to use it within their organizations and governmental bodies. When I told them that I was just going to put it out on my own social networks, they were surprised and, in some cases, distressed.
Their immediate feedback was that it would be irresponsible for me to take a document that I was supposed to create for everyday people and pass it out to those same ordinary people. I told them that it would be the cost of my doing this write-up. The fact that none of them argued with me after that point told me something important.
None of them wanted to be in the center of the target, where people will either yell about being overcautious or argue with the writer’s qualifications.
It never occurred to me to avoid writing about my thoughts or findings. How can we help each other if we are not willing to take a stand?
For those of you that either want to yell at me or argue, please do not bother. These are my thoughts, and you do not have to agree with them or obey them. But understand this, the six countries represented by my Security Council group will be using this write-up as input to some of their policies.
Many of these things that I mentioned in this document are either covered or partially mentioned in the guidelines put out by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, wading through that documentation is almost impossible for non-technical people.
Added into that information is the highly technical input of experts on infectious diseases, logistics, and military matters. Their language is all highly-couched in the linguistic form of their specialties and is not easily comprehensible for those without that background.
Doing my best to reduce the hundreds of hours that we have spent discussing this topic, beginning in late 2019 and occurring each day until now, I distilled out some physical and psychological practices. These are the ones that our collective group believes will provide some mitigation to the possible overwhelming wave of disease and loss that threatens us.
I am going to address the physical perspective first since that is the one to which most attention is being devoted.
The foremost item that had a unanimous agreement within our group is that if anyone returns from out-of-town travel, they must immediately wash all of their clothing when they get home. This includes wiping off shoes, luggage, etc.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward. When you go into an area that is not contained within your own community, even if it is only ten miles away, you have entered an area that is under different controls and mitigation strategies than the area with which you are most familiar.
Epidemics jump from spot to spot carried by travelers. Whether it be someone who needed to go pick up a desperately-needed supply in a different city or someone who is driving a truck to deliver things to a different suburb, the danger still increases. That also means that the more places that you visit on that trip, the broader area from which you draw possible contagion.
If you look at activity closer to home, the next thing that needs to be discussed and laid down in your household was one that did not make sense to my husband. Simply stated, anyone who comes inside after traveling off your property needs to take their shoes off at the door.
Although many people have stated that the coronavirus is not transmitted by aerosol, none of my group agrees. Too many of the experts that I work with around the world say otherwise, beginning with knowledgeable concerns over two months ago.
Anything that is spread in aerosol form can hang in the air for variable periods, depending on humidity and wind conditions. After that, it can fall to the ground like rain to be picked up by foot traffic.
Your shoes are going to track through it. If you bring it into your home, you will not even recognize what you are doing or when. Taking off your shoes, there is a strong chance that sometime later, you will touch your face or, even worse, contact a child’s face.
As I write this, I can look over to my entry hall and see the outside shoes set by the door. My husband has inside slippers that he puts on when he comes in. Others choose to go barefoot, thinking that it is far easier to wash feet then scrub every crevice of shoes that have trailed through who knows what.
After coming into the house and removing shoes, hands must be washed immediately. One of my colleagues who works with a similar analysis group has put a pan of water and dishwashing soap by the door. When she comes in, before she does more than take her shoes off, she uses the water to wash her hands. This has been shown to be a significant help when you are trailing some form of contagion.
I do find it amusing that her husband does not want to follow this procedure because, and I quote, “The water is too cold!”
Enough said on that.
The next item that was simple to distill out of the mass of discussions and data is that we needed a checklist that included things like updating your will, collecting all-important relevant numbers and emails, and having something similar to a fire escape plan.
If you do not have a plan for when disaster hits, it is highly likely you will do something to make it worse. So my husband and I sat down and worked out what we would do if one of us became ill. Luckily, we have the option of isolating ourselves in a separate bathroom and bedroom area if one of us becomes sick. We can get a separation within the house and even have different air filtering systems for those regions.
We went through a checklist of things that needed to be done to minimize cross contagion, and that included chores like changing the air filters in our furnace and air conditioning units every month instead of every six months. It also included the stocking of bottled water in the house so that if one person were ill, they could receive water without needing to hand off things directly from the healthy to the unhealthy person.
Phone numbers for doctors and emergency calls are now placed in several locations. This includes placement by all of our landline phones and also exists as an online document in case we do not have routine access. Several of our close friends have also been allowed access to those documents so that if both my husband and I become ill, we have others we can rely on.
The activities in the house need to also be restricted in the case of one of us becoming ill. The worst one is there will be no hugging and kissing for a while. That does not prevent being blown kisses from across the room, but I know that it will be challenging to be separated from my husband just at the time that we most need physical and mental comfort.
Based on many of the other data and findings of my security group, I also saw that it would become necessary to plan for what would happen with our animals if one or both of us became ill. In the case that one of us is sick and the other is not, the dogs should be safe. It is still best to figure out who will care for your animals if both of you are ill.
One surprising possible concern raised by both of our infectious disease specialists was that it might not be a good idea to have an oily-coated dog run from a sick person to a healthy one. Although there has been no study done on how long the virus can exist on the coat of an animal, oils will preserve it for a more extended period than other media.
I cannot go through a breed by breed discussion of which dogs have oily coats. That would require far more science than either I have the time to spend or frankly that I totally understand.
However, those of you with dogs know if your dog has an oily coat. None of us are worried that the animals are going to catch the coronavirus from us at this point, but we do know how stressed animals get when their owners are ill. You know they will be there cuddling up to you, and that any viral components that you cough or breathe out will likely fall on their coats.
When I was severely ill a year ago, anytime I came out of my fevered sleep, there was at least one animal tucked against me doing their best to comfort me. Those people with pets in their households are going to find that comfort important, whether they become ill or not. The companionship of our animals keeps us social and feeling loved. Both of those are very important for maintaining health and speeding recovery.
Just keep your animals clean as well as yourself. If you can, wipe your dog’s back with a wet rag and dog shampoo occasionally. It should break up the oils and address this concern whether or not it is a significant risk.
The benefits to our comfort and calmness are more substantial with the presence of pets than without them. Even the infectious disease guys worry that they are getting too paranoid. I am more concerned with getting the information out. You decide what you want to do. Just do not let your beloved animals suffer also.
Another thing that had to change from the way it was before concerned the effects of social distancing. With the physical separation that is driven by the concept of social distancing, some of the activities that we usually would do outside of the house have ceased. It is my belief that those interactions will never again be as free as they were before this pandemic hit. However, it is essential to understand that the dearth of customary social interaction harms our mental health.
Other items on the distilled checklist included making sure that you had appropriate medicines in-house for an extended period. We researched and found out that our pharmacy had a delivery service, and many are now offering that service around the world.
The reference numbers or websites for the health resources and providers were put on our massive reference list so that even stressed or being cared for by someone else, the crucial drugs that we need can be easily obtained.
We also went through some of the less pleasant aspects of talking about possible disease and even death. That included updating our wills and documenting decisions on resuscitation paperwork.
Although we know how to stay in contact with our children and grandchildren, we needed to leave information for others to do in our stead if necessary.
This re-examination of the pattern of our lives was beneficial in that we did it before we had to experience it. If some of those topics and procedures were not put into place before we became ill, the impact would be devastating.
The second area that needed to be discussed and agreed on concern the maintenance of mental health. Humans are social creatures, and any attempt to remove all social interaction ensures the loss of connection to reality and loss of the ability to create or motivate your own actions.
With limitations on physical interaction, the need for activities that deal with others, whether that be online or across the width of your yard, becomes a crucial requirement to fill.
A friend of mine used to go to her girlfriend’s house once a week for coffee. Since both of them have extensive and active families, the chance of cross-contamination is high. Today, they visit each other by chairs and tables placed on their respective sides of their joint fence. Instead of traveling to each other’s homes, they take their coffee out, sit down, and talk over the twenty feet between them.
This friend tells me that it felt very awkward at first, but now she looks forward to that day so much that she will start her day twice a week with that ritual.
What I found very interesting was the change in her behavior from before they started this type of discussion and now. I had been tracking her moods and was quite concerned about her. When she began to be a little more cheerful, I asked her what had changed. When she told me about her long arms-length coffee klatsch, I thought that it was brilliant.
By changing her meeting with her friend to something that was at a very extended distance away but still visible, both of them could see body reactions and language that all of us crave as part of our connection to others. At the same time, the two of them remain at a safe distance.
My friend continues to improve and, while she is working under a massive load of tension and worry concerning her family, her overall mental tone has grown stronger. I rejoice in the fact that her smiles appear much more frequently.
Some type of scheduled activity in a person’s environment is essential to maintaining mental health. It is not necessary to have days that have every minute planned, but some structure is a foundation that many people need.
Having days that have no reference points of attendance required or availability leaves most people floating in formless chaos that starts to erode their equilibrium. Without over scheduling, joining a group that exercises together over videoconference or signing up for story hour once a week can significantly improve not only your own stability but will affect your family’s mental balance.
It is also possible, especially with two small households, to form something I am going to call a cohort. Other terms for this type of sociological group are pod or compeer group. For instance, we have two friends that are following the same general procedures as we do to avoid becoming infected. They have been pretty much hunkered down for multiple weeks, and are not showing any signs of illness.
They are in reasonable health, although my female friend has long-term lung challenges and would be very vulnerable to the pandemic. Between common procedures and extended self-isolation periods, we now are comfortable with visiting each other once a week to play cards.
Before you agree to form a cohort of your own, make sure that some clear rules and policies govern what you all will do or not do. That keeps your perimeters as secure as you can get them and still gives you a limited social interaction that can provide a significant benefit.
In the situation that I am talking about, my girlfriend likes to play cards but also loves to cook. Her outlet for that has become very limited since she no longer has weekly dinners or game nights where people come from all over the Chicago area.
With the formation of the cohort, she and her husband can come play cards, and she can happily create dishes for us to sample and discuss. It fills a hole in her heart while it provides comfort to all of us to be together.
Find something to do that will help someone without putting yourself in danger. Become part of the solution, rather than standing there helpless, feeling like a tidal wave of death and destruction is going to crash over you. Take some of your own power back, without endangering others or yourself.
Build a plan now before you need it. Make it one that expresses your choices and lifestyle.
Maintain the unique things that define you, but still implement the procedures to keep you safe.