On Monday of this week, we realized that the “flu” our son was experiencing was probably not the flu.
For about 10 days, one of our sons — who is in college – had been ill. He had been spiking a fever and had a terrible cough. What should he do? Should he self-quarantine? Should he go to class? Should he get a novel coronavirus test?
In all the hype about COVID 19 leading up to this week, two things were abundantly unclear.
First, the symptoms. When our son got sick, we started researching the symptoms and reading first-hand accounts of what it is like to have COVID 19. Sometimes his symptoms aligned with our research, sometimes they didn’t.
Second, we couldn’t get a handle on whether or not COVID 19 was in Colorado. Officially, we were told there were no cases in the state. When the first case was identified — in a 30-something male who had recently been in Italy and traveled to Colorado to ski — our son was already ill.
And so were most of his friends. And while none of them had been out of the country or traveling, a boyfriend of one of them had flown in recently from Hong Kong for a short visit.
Skiing in Italy? An Early No-Go
While we will never know for certain if our son and his friends had COVID 19 — none of them are eligible for testing (despite trying to get tested) as they are 1) students and 2) hadn’t recently traveled themselves — their cases look to be an example of community spread.
Even before our son got sick, we were paying very close attention to novel coronavirus because we had a big ski trip planned. In lieu of Christmas gifts, our family was planning to fly to Munich, travel to Austria for a few days of skiing, before spending a week skiing in the Dolomites, which yes, are in northern Italy.
As the cases increased in Italy, I went into full denial. “We’ll still go and not tell anyone!” I suggested. Bad idea.
Then I reached out to a friend in Switzerland to get his advice on alternative ski destinations. He works for the International Ski Federation (FIS) and offered some enticing, apparently safer, alternatives. But then, FIS cancelled the World Cup Finals in Cortina (again, Italy) and even I began thinking twice about travel.
Disease Risk Management
Despite my clear state of selfish denial, the rest of my family was remarkably clear-headed. Our other son pointed out that he didn’t want to infect his grandparents, or his housemates. The son who eventually became ill was concerned about being quarantined upon return and missing classes.
And my husband who is a professional risk manager, was following statistics and actions taken by the private sector.
As he pointed out to me, “Airlines, like all businesses, want to make money. They don’t waive change fees unless it is something really serious.”
My brother works for a large multi-national corporation. He travels frequently. At least two weeks ago, his company cancelled all non-essential travel — the risk of having a large proportion of the workforce out sick outweighed any inconvenience.
Watching all of these private sector actions take hold, it was still easy for me to be in denial. Our state had so few cases. The CDC wasn’t issuing dire warnings against most travel. Community spread wasn’t a factor (right!?).
Plus, everyone else was still traveling, why shouldn’t we?
Travel is the Vector
In addition to paying close attention to Italy, we had been following COVID 19 since January, because we have relatives in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has had a crap year. And at the beginning of the outbreak, our relatives suggested that the virus was blown up out of proportion. Then they began sending us articles about how to protect ourselves.
Without a doubt, travel is one of the primary ways this virus spreads. Anywhere people meet there is a greater likelihood of transmission, but the movement of people across time zones and international boundaries has exacerbated and sped up infection.
Yesterday, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis announced that our mountain communities were likely to be hardest hit by COVID 19. As reported by the Colorado Sun, Polis noted that mountain communities are particularly risky and vulnerable, citing a lack of medical resources to fight the virus’ spread, high altitude (which has impacts on respiratory health), and the convergence of visitors from diverse places.
Polis went on to say that government and the public health system in Colorado alone cannot stop or even significantly slow the spread of the virus, adding “What is required is individual responsibility or action.”
What Should We Do Next?
When it comes to individual responsibility, I have been shamed by my children and husband who recognized the seriousness of this outbreak well before I did and took plans to cancel our travel.
As we think about an alternative spring break plan, we’re thinking about staying and home and skiing in Colorado.
But we’re also thinking about how to stay healthy, especially since one of us has already been sick. And even more importantly, we’re thinking about how to NOT contribute further to the epidemic.
This may mean just staying home.
First, we have to make sure our son is well and not contagious. We’ve been assured by doctors that without a fever, he’s good to go, cough or no cough. We’ll call an audible on this one when the time comes.
Next, we’re thinking about how disease spreads. Flights are out. Hotels are out, too. With a coronavirus outbreak in Aspen, we’re thinking about smaller, local ski areas in our region where the confluence of people and germs is likely less diverse.
The upshot? Right now, we’re not making any plans. With the situation changing so quickly, we’re waiting and seeing.
Are we paranoid? Possibly. But as a friend shared yesterday, “being proactive is always better than being reactive.”
Despite my selfish tendencies, I have to agree.
I’d love to get input on your reaction to COVID 19, spring break travel, school closures and how this virus is impacting your family. Please share in the comments.
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