On 15 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the people of South Africa to communicate a series of measures that the government is implementing to minimise the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Margaret Blackie explains why it is important to take these measures seriously, not only for ourselves but for the members of our communities who have reduced immunity.
Covid-19 is a virus which affects the lungs. It presents as a dry cough with a fever. Most people who get it will recover, in the same way that we recover from flu. The problem is that the elderly and those who are immunocompromised i.e. those with diabetes, hypertension, TB etc. are likely to develop complications. For these people, the cough may develop into pneumonia and this will require hospitalization and can result in death.
The idea of social distancing is to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads through the population, to minimize the number of people who may need hospitalization at any one time. If the virus spreads at the rate it has done in Wuhan or Italy, our hospitals will not be able to cope and many people will not have access to the treatment they need.
In this scenario, many who could have survived if they had hospital care will tragically and needlessly die.
The virus is transmitted from person to person especially through droplets emitted when coughing or sneezing. The virus will remain alive on surfaces and clothing for several hours.
You are most likely to contract it by touching a surface that has been contaminated by someone who is sick and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
There are several things you can do to reduce your own chances of getting the virus:
(1) Reduce the time you spend in public spaces and keep social interaction to a minimum. This is called social distancing.
(2) Wash your hands frequently with soap and water especially after being in a public space, touching door handles, handling money, grocery shopping etc. The soap will destroy the virus. If you cannot wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol).
(3) Try not to touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Transferring the virus to these membranes will likely result in infection.
The virus takes several days before the symptoms appear. Whilst you are most likely to be most contagious when you have the symptoms, it is possible, however, that people can begin to transmit the virus before they show symptoms. If you are ill, or you think you have been exposed to the virus – self-quarantine. Stay at home and minimize contact with others, especially those who are more vulnerable. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hand. If you blow your nose or cough into a tissue, wash your hands with soap and water immediately.
It is likely that Covid-19 will spread through a large portion of our population. Our main goal at this time, is to try and slow down the spread so that those who may need medical assistance will be able to receive it. This will only be possible if we all participate in restricting our social interactions. For example, I am 44 years old. If I were to get Covid-19 it is likely I will be sick for a couple of weeks and then recover. But I could easily pass it on to someone who is more vulnerable. The only way to slow the transmission is to reduce physical interaction.
The reduction of interaction includes going to Church and attending mass or any Lenten program. If you are ill, please stay at home. Already holy water has been removed and communion is only given under one kind. It is important to recognize that the consecrated Eucharist can still be a vehicle of transmission. If the priest or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist has the virus on their hands, in handing you the communion wafer which you then ingest, you will be exposed to the virus. This reality has no bearing on the understanding of transubstantiation and the belief in the real Presence of Christ. Parishes should cancel any public meetings, and ideally dispensation should be given to stay away from Sunday masses until further notice.
There are many parishes across the world who are broadcasting their Sunday services and I strongly advice all Catholics to participate in these services from the safety of their own homes.
Remember that our goal is to slow the spread, so that those who are vulnerable will be able to receive the care that they need. This is only possible if we all participate. Our self-imposed restrictions on our movements is an act of care for those who are more vulnerable. It would be irresponsible of us, as Church, not to take this very seriously.