As Covid rains upon us, we learn how to dance

July 18, 2021 | 04:15 pm PT
Truong Huu Khanh Epidemiologist
When people started to barricade doors and windows after knowing their neighbors had Covid-19, I told them to keep them open to "let the air out."

I've seen some discriminate against others because they were Covid patients or medical workers. They did not allow them to get out to the streets or even walk out of their own houses. I tried to explain that the coronavirus cannot be transmitted without direct contact and closed spaces, but not everyone seemed to understand.

Some even believed they could be infected just because their homes were within a few dozen meters of a locked down area.

I've received texts from those who have been in close contact with Covid-19 cases saying they were harassed by people around them. I tell them to keep their heads up, pay no attention to what people say and simply follow through with appropriate coronavirus prevention measures. Unless they had been in direct and frequent contact with infected people, which should be their only concern.

All the fear and paranoia we are facing are probably by-products of the very ways we fight the pandemic. As the number of new cases rises every day, the sight of ambulances with flashing red lights and blaring sirens and people covered from head to toe in protective gear is sure to bring a sense of dread.

People are stressed enough with lockdowns and social distancing, and so maybe we could tone things down a bit. Even Covid patients need only masks not full-body protective suits.

I also don't agree with how we used to send all infected people and those who were in close contact with them into quarantine. Their condition could worsen there depending on the food they are provided and their mental well-being after being plucked away from the comfort of their homes. And this is not even to mention how all field hospitals have far exceeded their capacity.

But there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Earlier this month when I attended a meeting with HCMC leaders, I learned that the city has allowed asymptomatic Covid cases and people who were in close contact with them to be self-isolated at home instead.

Many experts now agree that the endgame in the coronavirus fight is to save the lives of as many severe Covid cases as possible, not herding them all to one place and watching until their condition gets worse. Splitting them into various groups will work too: mild cases could stay at home, and those at risk of severe Covid must be kept near hospital ICUs.

Letting patients stay at home and reducing their quarantine period will relieve the burden on the healthcare system and people will be a lot more relaxed amid these turbulent times.

Medical workers at a field hospital in HCMC, July 11, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

A Covid patient (C) is disinfected before being admitted to a field hospital in HCMC, July 11, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Epidemiologically speaking, anyone of us could be infected with the coronavirus at any given moment. HCMC's Covid tally will continue to rise in the coming days, but the numbers will depend on how well we follow measures to curb infections.

If you're infected, just stay calm: you're not the only one. You might have spread it to your entire family; so inform them first. You should return home if you don't have enough time to move to a quarantine facility since it is better to stay put in your own house and prepare the luggage for your trip into quarantine. Do not be impatient if no one is coming to pick you up since medical facilities are probably overloaded.

Remember to wear a mask and face shield. Keep your distance. Do not eat, sleep or relax at the same place as others. Inform your local medical ward early about your situation and tell them if you have any comorbidity that might increase your chances of contracting severe Covid, like obesity and other underlying conditions.

If you are already in quarantine, drink plenty of water. Wear masks whenever you can, try to relax and do some light physical exercises. Stay clean and wash your hands whenever you use the bathroom. Any discomforting symptom should be communicated to medical workers.

If you are self-isolating at home, tell the local medical ward about it. Tell your family members to take all precautions. Always try to keep your hands off your face to avoid contamination.

The residents of HCMC, now the nation's largest coronavirus hotspot, are asking questions that have had no answer like "Am I infected? Did I infect anyone else? What should I do now?"

It is time for authorities to start telling people to buy quick test kits like many around the world have done. Doing so would help relieve the burden on the healthcare system, and is pretty much the only logical option left for Vietnam at the moment. Countries with similar numbers of daily cases have done the same, and we should be no exception.

There is a tough fight ahead of us, and it is worrying. While I was a bit uncomfortable with how things are progressing, I am glad to see the shift in the coronavirus fight strategies we are adopting. HCMC has prepared for the worst with more treatment centers, more equipment and more test kits.

While we wait for the vaccines to arrive, everyone should do their bit by following social distancing measures to slow down the spread of the virus. Authorities should find ways to empower people in the Covid fight, making them capable of resolving issues as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The dark times will pass. And once the light shines upon us again, everything will be okay.

*Truong Huu Khanh is a doctor and epidemiologist at the Children's Hospital I in HCMC. The opinions expressed are his own.

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