It’s been a few months since the novel coronavirus introduced itself in the form of several pneumonic cases to Wuhan, China. Shortly after, the virus began sneakily scattering throughout the globe, injecting widespread scare and panic over the entire globe. We saw the first case in the states in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak a global pandemic a little over a month later on March 11th. By this time, Asia was already deeply permeated by the virus, killing thousands. The WHO continued efforts to understand the crisis in attempts to lessen the amount of fear. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action, and we have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
Understanding the character of the virus is still in its discovery phase, given its newness. The virus, named Coronavirus Disease or COVID-19 (COronaVIrus Disease, and 19 for the year it was discovered), is one of many strains that exist, that is, it’s part of a group of viruses that are similar in nature. There is more than one Coronavirus type and all are zoonotic, a virus that originates from the family Animalia. COVID-19’s method of entry into the human body is through droplets of saliva and/or contents coming from the nose. Health experts have advised that one should remain within a prescribed distance (6 feet to be exact) from another human and be cautioned when in close range of someone who is sneezing and coughing. Fever, coughing, and fatigue are associated as the main symptoms of COVID-19; difficulty breathing and sore throat are minor symptoms of the disease. It is important to note that not everyone who is sneezing and coughing is suffering from the condition, and that practicing and understanding safety measures that are repeatedly mentioned from various reputable communication outlets is critical.
“We have to break old habits
and retrain ourselves. It requires more labor,
but necessary during this time”
Communication and safety is crucial during these turbulent times, particularly to those working in the front lines and the families that support them at home. Resources may appear to be scarce with panic, fear, disconnectedness, rumors, and uncertainty ever present. The media at times does little to provide comfort, but simultaneously, how could they in a situation such as COVID-19? The primary job of a news outlet is to deliver news in the raw, regrettably. The unfortunate fact of the pandemic is that the world was simply taken by surprise; the disease spread quickly and did not allow humans to react appropriately in order to digest the reality of the event as it unfolded around them. Yes, one can say “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” to many scenarios and decisions or indecisions, and while it’s understandable to feel this way, it’s not helpful, especially to those that work in the frontlines. During an interview, one Los Angeles City Department Firefighter and his spouse, who requested to remain anonymous and will be referred to as Frank and Jennifer, have taken a few steps that they have found useful in order to work together and communicate with one another during the COVID-19 crisis.
“My firefighter husband (Frank) and I have had those difficult conversations in regards to COVID-19 and have come up with a plan, but we did not arrive at this without difficulty,” said Jennifer. She expressed how initially the conversation regarding COVID-19 was not a topic of conversation, but then began because of the fear she began to feel. “When I started realizing measures to contain the virus were ramping up, I recognized how serious I should’ve been taking the situation.” The couple has made a few modifications to their routine that may seem inconvenient to normal everyday habits, but necessary. They have both arrived at the realization that dialogue is critical regarding the pandemic, and hope that others can learn from their experience.
“It makes me feel nervous and anxious that there is a chance my husband might come home exposed to the virus, but this is his job. I want to be there for him to let him know I care. I think about how it affects him. This is something that is scary, the uncertainty,” said Jennifer. For families to have added comfort when a firefighter comes home from their shift, it’s important to share the safety guidelines discussed at the station on cleaning and disinfection. Additionally, detailing the daily life of a firefighter during COVID-19 is a good way to not only provide comfort, but it can also provide a certain level of understanding so that loved ones are better equipped to be supportive. Other topics that can be discussed are: explanation of the process followed between calls, cleaning of the apparatus, one-in-one-out rule, usage of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the biohazard procedure. Breaking down these processes can assist spouses and families to build a good support system at home, while reducing a large amount of fear and anxiety on both sides. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) has placed pertinent information on their website LAFD.org, which includes a timeline of current COVID-19 precautions being taken to keep Los Angeles firefighters safe. The website includes links that lead to outside reputable resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to help educate on the most recent developments of the pandemic. If an educated decision cannot be made from these resources, communicate with the firefighter family member. They will be able to share knowledge that may not be directly accessible on the website. It is critical to remember to take a deep breath, sit down, relax, speak, listen, understand, and learn.
Aside from the precautions firefighters are taking at the station, there are a few practices to do at home in order to feel safer within your environment. Strict cleaning and disinfecting habits include: removing shoes before entering the household and place them in a bag for cleaning, removing clothes in a private area near the washer and dryer and immediately place them in the washing machine, and then taking a shower promptly after. The private area used should be sanitized instantly as well. Having hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol or better inside of vehicles for travel purposes is advised. Other methods might include the firefighter showering at the station and placing dirty clothes in a plastic bag and emptying the contents in the washer at home. “We have to break old habits and retrain ourselves. It requires more labor, but necessary during this time,” said Frank. Jennifer has also stated that in the event that Frank becomes positive, their plan is to isolate him to only one area of the house, but for others it might be remaining in the LAFD designated quarantine area or temporarily relocating the family to a relative or friend’s home. A couple might consider separate sleeping quarters whether infection is present or not to take measures further.
Social distancing should also be observed for those with essential jobs as soon as they leave their work environment. “I ask that everyone please do your part to not infect others or become infected yourself by adhering to the public health directives and practicing social distancing,” said LA public health director, Barbara Ferrer. Social distancing, which is a fairly new term for most Americans, means to purposely keep an appropriate amount of spacing (6 feet minimum) to other people, which medical experts have said will aid in minimizing infection, along with practicing little to no group gatherings. While these simple steps may seem obvious, logic is not always at the forefront when attempting to gain control in an uncontrollable globe.
By Victor Ortiz, Jr.