How do we move forward?
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2020 - 12:00am

This week feels like a whirlwind and it’s just begun. On Monday, the President declared a public health emergency upon the advice of his Cabinet and after the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country surged to 24 in a matter of days. Hopefully this is not a runaway train and the increase stabilizes soon, although with the number of people who have come into contact with those infected and with potentially infected areas, there’s no telling what can happen.

Honestly, if we’ve learned anything in the past few days it’s that we are not prepared for a health problem of this magnitude. Since the first recorded case of coronavirus in the country, we have been quite slow in moving for testing and the result was recording zero cases for an extended period of time. However, that was not to last and soon more and more cases got confirmed – even doubling overnight.

What does this mean for the rest of us? In general, COVID-19 is a curable infection and the wider majority of the people will get well, or not even realize they are infected – attributing their symptoms to a bad cold or flu.

Unfortunately, those who are older or immuno-compromised are in real danger for fatal infections and because of that we can’t afford to be lax with our health or our hygiene.

At this point, we are facing an uphill battle. Schools have been suspended and work-from-home options (when available) are being implemented, but what will this really accomplish? We aren’t going to solve the problem in a mere week or even two. From understaffed hospitals to lack of testing kits we are, excuse the pun, ill prepared to deal with a potential outbreak of this magnitude and soon it’s going to overwhelm our public and private health sector.

As is, the public health emergency declaration will boost the efforts already underway. But the reality is, there are too few testing kits available and too little quarantine ready spaces in our hospital facilities. Most hospitals only have one to two quarantine rooms and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) will surely get overwhelmed if this gets out of hand.

So what do we need to do now? At this point, prevention remains key and looking out for one another is an important aspect moving forward. Our government can only do so much, the rest is up to us. It’s almost shocking at this point that basic hygiene must be reiterated so much. We need to be careful, wash our hands regularly and thoroughly, wear masks whenever needed, cough responsibly, and maintain safe distances from each and avoid physical contact for the time being. It’s in our hands to be as cautious as possible.

However, safety doesn’t mean shunning the world or going into panic-lockdown mode either. We tend to go overboard (both ways) when put in these types of situations and that always makes things that much worse. While canceling huge events may seem prudent at this point – this can’t be the norm forever. Isolationism will only serve to make everyone more paranoid and that’s not good at a time when we need to work together.

Being cautious is one thing, but being overly paranoid and panicked is another. This will cause mass hysteria and will be a determent to both public safety and our overall welfare. We need to be informed, but not manic. We also need to filter our news source and rely on real news – not overhyped media written specifically to stir up dread. Honestly, with all the crazy news being put out there it’s the panic that’s going to push us over the cliff before the virus does.

We’ve seen it happening in other countries – and I’m told it’s already happening here too (on a smaller scale). Panic buying of hundreds and thousands of masks and bottles of alcohol are happening. People in the United States are fighting tooth and nail for toilet paper (which remains a mystery to most Asians) and, in general, it’s becoming a “everyman for himself” situation.

This is what we must try to avoid. The only way out of this is through cooperation. No one is stopping you from buying what your family needs – get those masks and alcohol, but there is no need to hoard for the next five years. Other people need to protect themselves too and we stand our best shot at creating healthier, stronger communities if we work together.

So here’s to being cautious, but not panicked. We can’t let our lives remain at a standstill – after all, how will we live? Sure some costs, like gas, have gone down, but that’s just one of many expenses in our lives. Most people can’t afford to just hunker down and do nothing. So we soldier on, exercising as much caution and prudence as possible.

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