"If distancing could be perfectly observed, by definition any viruses still around by the end of week 3, this week, would be dead by end of week 6."
As we near the midpoint of this one-month lockdown, more and more of us are hearing of friends, even relatives, being felled by the virus. I’m no exception, and because their numbers are mounting, this week let me honor them by singling out a special and representative name: Dr. Raul Jara, one of the first, and to date the most senior, of the eleven (and counting) physicians who died while doing their duty.
Doc Raul was my cardiologist for many years, out of Capitol Med and the Heart Center. Because he headed the non-invasive diagnostics unit at the latter, as well as the cardiology department at the UP medical school, he was clearly a pillar of his profession. I knew I was in the hands of the very best when he oversaw my heart bypass in 2008, then a follow-up angiogram years later. He was so conservative in his treatment protocol that he decided at the last minute, while the catheter was still stuck inside me, to cancel the angioplasty that was supposed to follow immediately.
Raul was also a year ahead of me at the UP High School, where he was one of the kinder PMT (later called CAT) officers who didn’t haze us neophytes so much. After my bypass, while I was still in the recovery ICU, my wife says she saw the two of us together singing the tune “All in the Game,” a hit in our time by the British singer Cliff Richard. It was a tune he’d ordered me to research the lyrics for as a neophyte assignment in high school when he was courting his future wife Leni, my batchmate and later his fellow physician (together with three of the five children they would have).
I was blessed to benefit from his medical ministrations in the past two decades, and I count myself lucky to have been a small part of the romantic story that brought Leni and him together, in that long-ago springtime of our lives. Thank you for your life, Doc.
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After two weeks of an online barrage of news—both fake and semi-fake—and unsolicited advice—most, though not all, of it from amateurs who don’t know any better—a number of ideas seem indisputable and worth repeating here.
First, the ideal situation would be to have a 100 percent effective cure for, and/or vaccine against, the virus. But we don’t have that yet, and may not have it in commercial quantities at least in the next few weeks while the epidemic rages. In terms of our present situation, pharmaceutical antidotes are still out of the question.
Second, the virus is known to have a lifespan of at most three weeks. This is what drives the lockdown timing. If the restrictions on movement of people are comprehensively observed, this means the lockdown should stay in place at least six weeks, i.e. extended beyond one month for at least åtwo more weeks after April 14, up to end of April. China beat back the virus in two months. Bill Gates—whose extensive medical philanthropy gives him some authority--recommends 6 to 10 weeks. One and a half months for us, in that light, is a minimum.
Third, because of the virus lifespan, social distancing is all-important. The key elements of this as most people know by now: Stay at home. Wear face masks (and gloves) if you have to go outside. Keep your distance from others (that includes being careful about the surfaces you touch). Disinfect everything on yourself when you get back home. If distancing could be perfectly observed, by definition any viruses still around by the end of week 3, this week, would be dead by end of week 6.
Which brings me to the subject of those already stricken, as well as persons under interest (PUIs) or under monitoring (PUMs). Perfect distancing also means isolating especially those already infected. Close down the hospitals, keep the infected at home. That applies in particular to the elderly and those medically compromised. As and when they begin dying off, the virus also dies with them in the same isolation from others.
Of course, this quite rational policy would be unthinkable for us. There will still be more—perhaps far more—infected cases who will recover with proper treatment. Their lives will be worth the fewer cases who die, including any afflicted frontline workers. This is why I think resourcing our health system with all those newly-released emergency funds is far more important than testing only for contact tracing purposes.
Remember, we are neither a Japan nor a South Korea that can wield contact tracing like a scalpel to selectively implement distancing. This crisis will not make us catch up to them overnight. A total lockdown, like a blunderbuss, achieves the same thing--more brutally and less efficiently, true, but it works within our limited capabilities and gets us to the same place. Use the emergency funds as well to cushion the blow on those who are most vulnerable—on informal settlers, not subdivision dwellers, as one plain-spoken government official put it.
As for the business people I read online who worry about the state of a post-lockdown economy: please, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. With two trillion dollars of assistance planned by the US, as well as half a trillion pesos of monetary and fiscal relief in our country, let’s stop wringing our hands over our businessmen.
There’s another reason we don’t just keep the infected in their homes and let them die there. That’s what wolf packs do, when they leave behind the old, the sick, those members who can’t keep up with the pack or do their share. But it’s not yet an impossibility for us. Let’s pray that we don’t get so overwhelmed by the virus—as in Italy, or Spain—that we have no choice but to triage, a fancy term for what wolves do. Social distancing may spread the pack apart, but it will keep them alive.
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The first reading (Nm 21: 4-9) tells about how the Lord punishes an ungrateful Israel by sending venomous serpents among them. After they repent, Moses, at the Lord’s instruction, fashions a bronze serpent mounted on a pole that will heal anyone bitten by the serpents who just looks at the bronze icon.
This clearly prefigures the Passion drama in which we are now deeply engaged, as in the Gospel account (Jn 8: 21-30) of how Jesus will let Himself be hung upon a tree in order to heal men from the venom of sin. He admonishes the crowd: “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins…When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.”
This is the gift of the Unnameable One: salvation from our sins, offered—only through His Son, and not to wolves—but only to men who, by their compassion to others, lift Him up and show that they believe in Him.
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