By Dr Daniel Israel is a general practitioner working in Johannesburg. He is a member of GGPC(Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration) which has created a platform for doctors to share resources during Covid-19. Look for #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.
“It’s just a cup of coffee”, they say. And, is often followed by “My mental risk is more at stake than the small social risks”. Ha!
We are all tired. As South African’s, we aren’t used to being cooped up. We are searching for opportunities to reach out to family and friends, and we are fed up with being prevented from earning our livelihoods. I deeply appreciate why so many people in our society – young and old – welcomed the move to level 3 lockdown as an opportunity to reconnect a little with the ‘inner circle.’ If ever there has been a time to stop unnecessary social interactions during COVID-19, it is now.
Why small social risks are NOT OK
Two weeks later, we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of positive cases in our community. Every day, I am in contact with a patient who calls me with a positive test result and a multitude of questions. And very often, this patient is anxious over who he/she may have already infected.
The number of social interactions within our community has dramatically increased. Consequently, this has led to increased risk, complicating quarantining even further. I resonate with the human need to embrace trusted family and friends. However, Coronavirus knows no trust and it will not stop at your back door. That is the reality of it all.
Some FAQs regarding small social gatherings:
QUESTION: Doc, can I make social arrangements with limited family and friends, who I know are being careful as well?
ANSWER: I’ve pondered the answer to this question for some time. The short answer is NO, unfortunately. Several incidents, in the old-aged homes in South Africa support this. Here, every extra-precaution to keep Covid out had been taken, and the virus still managed to infiltrate the circle of safety. It is important to remember that:
- By exposing yourselves to more people, you are exponentially increasing your own risk, and the risk you may be passing on.
- with this novel virus, individuals may contract COVID-19 and spread it, while they are asymptomatic
This situation varies greatly from other viruses where ‘what you see is what you get’. Do not make a false assumption by translating ‘I’ve behaved carefully – I even easily ran 10 kilometres today’ into ‘I don’t have coronavirus’. This simply isn’t true.
QUESTION: Neither my family nor I am at risk of complications if we get infected, Doc. So I’m okay with the idea of our extended families mingling together.. We’ll take a calculated risk?
ANSWER: Coronavirus certainly poses a greater to risk the elderly and to individuals with co-morbidities than to young healthy individuals. However, at least 5% of worldwide deaths have occurred in young healthy people. Within my GP practice, the patient who had the greatest complications was:
- a woman
- who travelled to Gauteng from the Western Cape
- and was in her thirties.
- She had no co-morbidities.
Even if you believe you’re willing to roll the dice and take your chances, are you prepared to transmit the virus unknowingly to a more vulnerable patient who certainly wouldn’t?
QUESTION Doc, if we’re sending children back to school and we’re returning to work, surely it’s okay to have a few friends over for coffee?
ANSWER: It’s important to differentiate necessity from nicety.
- Education is a necessity (and even then the necessity may often be fulfilled through online education).
- Income generation is a necessity.
- Seeking out healthcare and chronic medication is a necessity.
A social debrief around a coffee machine is a nicety.
On this topic, I have been asked whether I would endorse a lonely woman regularly going to visit her sister’s family to prevent her developing depression. Of course, all social distancing measures were in place. I resoundingly endorsed this. This is a matter of averting the risk of mental illness over the risk of coronavirus
The bottom line of small social gatherings
I’ve seen in my own recent encounters that the very people who did not consider themselves to be engaging in risky behaviour are the same people who now find themselves caught with their masks half-down in a quandary of panic.
If you find yourself already caught in a social dilemma or you’re concerned about previous exposure, contact your doctor. We’re trained to assist you to re-establish your boundaries. I do, however, encourage the community still to engage safely in the world. There is no staying locked up forever: the challenge is responsible outside engagement only.