“Worrying doesn’t stop the bad stuff from happening. It just stops you from

enjoying the good stuff.”  ~ Anonymous

On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Chinese COVID-19 a pandemic. What did it mean to have a pandemic?

When a lot of people in a given area, state, region or country get sick, it’s an epidemic. When an illness spreads and people outside the epidemic area begin to get sick, it becomes a pandemic.

World history documents many epidemics and pandemics: Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean were epidemics. In 2009 the H1N1 influenza was an epidemic in the US that became pandemic.

The next day our world changed. President Donald Trump declared a National State of Emergency in the United States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar actions were taken around the world. Overnight there was a new vocabulary: flattening the curve, shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, social distancing, and new interpretations of “essential”.

Whatever people thought they knew, there was a greater sense of concern of the unknown. For some COVID-19 seemed similar to the polio outbreak 104 years ago. While we struggled with what we didn’t know, New York and other cities shut down — similar to today. Avoiding crowds (or social distancing) was common in 1916, especially for those under 16 years of age. National holiday celebrations were cancelled. Polio was seasonal to the summer; it is believed COVID-19 will be seasonal also.

My life had taught me to be prepared. Growing up on a farm we prepared for the winter during the warm months. Although I don’t remember being concerned about polio, I do remember receiving the “sugar cube” polio vaccine at a neighborhood school. While studying public health in college, historical epidemics and disasters were epidemiology assignments for study.

As a Girl Scout leader and trainer being prepared included shelter and safety. This had special meaning for me while living in Japan (with typhoons and earthquakes). I learned to maintain a 72-hour food and water supply in the event of a disaster.

As staff in a major medical center we were trained to be ready for whatever walked in the door — the logistics of managing patients and staff while being ready to respond to patient needs and to protect hospital staff.

I was about as trained as an individual could have been. Yet, short of experiencing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we never had to test our preparedness with natural events, earthquakes and biological or chemical contamination. COVID-19 was showtime without the dress rehearsal.

Before the pandemic announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) I received a call from my son in California (aka, COVID-19 hotspot). Stay-at-home orders were being implemented — this was before the WHO made the pandemic declaration. He wanted my to know. We discussed what being prepared looked like.

My youngest child still had to report to work in a shopping center for the week after the National State of Emergency — there were many discussions about essential. I prepared her with mask, Lysol, germicidal gel, and germicidal soap. It was her right to be protected. Relief came a week later when the store decided to close for the COVID-19.

Epidemiological models with dire projections were the talk of the day. The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those in the center of outbreaks was disturbing and brought images of other shortages and concerns for friends. Disinformation was explosive. My motherly “we’ll be okay” was lacking its calming impact to those around me. It wasn’t “they could hear it in my voice” as much as it was voices from other sources that I couldn’t outshout: the internet, the news, friends, etc. Again, so much disinformation.

Stress was an understatement even in the shelter of one’s home. After 2-weeks of stay-at-home orders, forget the virus, I didn’t think we were going to survive the confinement. So in the spirit of action vs reaction, I began to do what I normally do when stressed: do something physical and increase activity. I cleaned every door and window trim, baseboards, the car, the truck, cell phones, remote controls, touchpoints and door knobs inside and out. Nothing came into the house without a wipe-down or sitting in the sun for a few hours. Additionally, I had an ever growing “To do” list for anyone who needed “something to do” also.

In the process of determining “what do we have?” I organized the pantry. One by one I addressed a household area that would benefit from a little more attention. Before I was finished I had even organized the attic — really. My efforts were noticed by other family members and slowly other areas began to look better also. On more than one occasion a surprise visit to my daughter’s room revealed not an “eww” but rather an “ahh!” This was great.

If every cloud had a silver lining, mine was a cleaner house and a more aware family to the opportunities for exposure to viruses in general.

As we lost the ability to eat out (or give our taste buds a new flavor sensation), we began to look for different taste sensations over the internet. The pantry organization had provided an opportunity to inventory what I did and did not have so selecting recipes had to come from what was available. This  once or twice a week event was also picked up by my daughter. To her credit, she selected recipes I probably would not have selected. In the end she received the highest praise for introducing the more varied tastes to the menu. It also gave her an opportunity to learn some food preparation and cooking techniques.

Birthdays and holidays were supported by live videos via phone or computer. Not perfect but it was good to have visuals and the technology allowed more interaction with each other.

To be honest, getting busy with cleaning and organization did not change the COVID-19 situation. At times the videos reminded me of what I was missing. It did help us to cope with being locked up together. It also didn’t hurt the house to get the tender loving care it had been neglected.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented event. For many stress was rooted in some degree of fear. If you weren’t concerned about the virus, maybe you were concerned about the family income. Maybe you knew someone who was ill or lived alone and felt helpless to support them. Maybe you were deemed essential and every work day brought concerns. We are all familiar with fear. Sometimes fear translates into behaviors that don’t aways say “this is what fear looks like”: low patience levels, quick to respond in a negative way, and just being difficult to get along with. Be open to the behavior that may be caused from it.

Our healthier stress responses included:

  • Exercising: physical activity decreases stress while improving mood and focus.
  • Taking care of yourself: A regular sleep schedule (6 – 9 hours per night) and a heart healthy and carb controlled is supportive of health and wellness.

Hurricane, earthquake, or virus will produce stress. Not dealing with the stress will most certainly mean you will deal with it poorly. Make a plan and work the plan.

We will all have moments of fear and concern. We have a choice if we let it define us or to control it.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up,

this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

~ Rosa Parks