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Reconnecting with the world: The challenge of living with COVID-19

COVID-19 is here to stay for some time, but the good news is that doctors and scientists have learned a great deal about the virus in the last six months. Margaret Blackie explains that these lessons provide a basis for each person — given their level of susceptibility to the virus and their levels of comfort — to choose their social interactions.

We have learnt a great deal in the last six months about COVID-19. At Level 2, South Africa has eased many of the lockdown restrictions, but that does not mean the danger has passed. The time has come to co-exist with the pandemic and make personal choices, based on scientific evidence and our own risk categories.

The COVID-19 mortality rate now is far lower than the levels observed in Italy, Spain and the UK in March and April. Fewer than 1% of cases are severe and require hospitalisation. There are multiple reasons for the decrease in the mortality rate.

The risk presented by COVID-19 is not as great as was feared in the early days when it hit Europe and the United States. The measures taken given the data that was present at the time and the extrapolation thereof was reasonable. But we have more data now. The threat is not so severe.

We now know which drugs can help to manage and treat severe cases. Despite that, patients with underlying inflammatory conditions are still more susceptible, and the elderly are still more likely to develop complications.

Choosing our interactions

Within this context, the time has come to figure out how to live with the presence of the virus. We know that the longer we spend in someone’s presence, the closer they are, and the more stagnant the air flow, the greater the viral load. High viral loads increase the likelihood of getting sick as well as the seriousness of the infection.

Spending time outdoors, continuing to practice physical distancing of 1.5m for short periods is less likely to cause an infection than spending the day sitting next to someone in your living room. This provides a guideline for choosing social interactions accordingly.

The deeper challenge now is to learn to live with uncertainty. The uncertainty of the current crisis is not greater than it was before. We are just all more aware of it. For many people, uncertainty and fear are inextricably linked, but it doesn’t have to be so. The invitation is to learn to live in the uncertainty with equanimity.

The invitation is to learn to live in the uncertainty with equanimity.

We should continue to take precautions. We need to recognise that there are genuinely different levels of risk, and to allow ourselves and others to find their own level of comfort with engagement with society. Do not feel pressured to put yourself in positions of greater risk than your level of comfort dictates. Be kind to those who choose to continue to self-isolate.

We all need to learn to negotiate social interaction in this new time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before committing to a social engagement. Be gentle with one another.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.