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  • @ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Mourning Carefree Past, Accepting COVID-19 World



Four months ago, a childhood friend was hospitalized with myeloma, or cancer of plasma cells. The news shocked and overwhelmed me. I felt helpless.

Now, my friend is recovering at home. But the global medical condition has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Again, I am shocked and overwhelmed but, this time, by a virus that threatens to infect me, my family and friends, and everyone on the planet.

How do I feel?

I am in mourning for the past, which is gone. I miss those light and carefree days. Friends have spoken to me about their trips abroad canceled because of the novel coronavirus, always adding that they are grateful for their health. We took travel for granted.

Going to my nearest town in Portugal, 17 kilometers away, seems fraught with planning and worry. I drive to Oliveira do Hospital every two weeks to shop for food. I pack my novel coronavirus accouterments: mask, gel and paper towels. I don’t stop for coffee and cake at a patisserie. I don’t stop at all. I rush through the expedition so that I can get home safely.

Yesterday, I saw an acquaintance at a supermarket. We had passed each other before recognizing each other’s masked face and, then, stopped 2 meters away from each other. How are you, we asked each other. Fine.

“Not nice,” she said.

“No. Not nice,” I said.

We moved on.

It has taken me eight weeks to accept the change. I kept waiting for the end of the pandemic even though the wait made no sense. In Portugal, whose population is 10 million, for example, cases of the novel coronavirus and deaths continue to climb, albeit at a markedly slower rate than before. As of May 7, there were 27,268 confirmed cases, an increase of 553 compared with the previous day, and 1,114 deaths, 9 more deaths than the day before.

Development of a vaccine against COVID-19 will take at least 12 to 18 months, which is an optimistic estimate by experts, one of which is underscored by an assumption that this goal is possible at all. Seventy-eight developers are actively trying to develop a vaccine, according to “The COVID-19 Vaccine Landscape” in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery on April 9.

Even with a vaccine, the lack of a unified global approach in addressing the pandemic may cause problems in eradicating the virus, science journalist Laurie Garrett said on Thursday in a televised interview with CNN.

“The virus will continue to circulate in the world, regardless of whether or not there’s a vaccine, unless we’re committed to a strategic goal of really getting rid of the virus from the planet with the appropriate implementation of vaccine for everybody: 7.5 billion human beings,” said Garrett, author of the prescient The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, first published in 1994.

Still, vaccine research takes time. Study of the novel coronavirus takes time. We need time.

Nothing will be as it was before, said Garrett, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her courageous reporting from Zaire of the Ebola virus outbreak.

“I think we’re going to get four, five years from now and there will not be a single aspect of our lives that’s been unchanged,” said Garrett. “It’s almost impossible to really fully envision what that will look like.”

Yet, we must begin to envision our future and create a new way of living now.

I will begin by contacting friends by telephone or computer, friends whom I had hoped to visit in person. In this small way, I am taking another step into acceptance of a COVID-19 world.

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