I love to travel. As I’ve gotten older, I’m getting more and more interested in how people in other countries live today and how they cope with life, and I’m less concerned with seeing their old buildings and monuments. It’s the people and their cultures that are starting to get my attention when I go someplace new.
In the era of COVID-19 we are in now, I haven’t done ANY traveling. I don’t think I’ve been more than 30 miles from my house since March 5, when I was in New Orleans at a conference. I’m lying low. But, I am reading a lot about other countries, other lands and other ways of doing things, especially countries that were just as devastated by the first outbreaks of COVID-19 back in March and April as we were here in the U.S.
Some of those countries are just about to move to what we would call Phase IV, an almost complete return to the way things were before coronavirus, because their COVID-19 infection rates have gone down to almost zero. Keep in mind the countries I’m studying are what we might call First World, heavily industrialized nations that are a lot like us. Places like Italy, Germany and France.
As we wallow in the middle of our rising COVID-19 case counts here in America, what can we learn from places that are not having another big crush of infections? What are they doing differently than what we did in June and the earlier part of July?
Let’s take a peek, shall we?
Mask Up or Close Down
Countries in Europe initially dealt with the same kind of mask resistance that we occasionally see here in Louisiana. Eventually, the citizens there realized that it was “mask up or close down,” and they settled on masking.
In April, both the European Union countries and the United States were averaging around 30,000 new cases a day. Now, as of July 19, the U.S. is averaging more than 60,000 cases a day, while the EU countries are down to a very low 4,400 cases per day (in a land of 446 MILLION people).
This graphic from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is telling. The United States is colored dark brown, indicating more than 120 new cases over the past 14 days per 100,000 people. Most of Europe is experiencing fewer than 20 new cases per 100,000 people, with a few countries in the 21-59.9 range.
In fact, EU businesses are about to reopen to an almost-normal way of doing things, with some important exceptions. They are still banning what are known as “super-spreader” events with large crowds gathered, like football matches (that’s “soccer” to us here in the States) and concerts. But the bars are open and the restaurants nearly back to regular capacity and ways of serving customers.
Wouldn’t you like to know how they got here?
It’s so simple, you’re going to be mad at me when I tell you. These countries’ entire public health programs, continent wide, were based on three simple principles:
- Social distancing. Keeping at least 2-3 meters (6.6-9.9 feet) away from people you are not 100% sure are not carrying COVID-19.
- Enhanced hygiene. Washing your hands and commonly touched surfaces with soap and water at least four or five times a day, sometimes more, and
- Wearing a mask. The EU promoted “masking up” any time you walked outside your front door, or if you lived with people who were infected, whether they were symptomatic or not.
Any of this sound familiar? Hello?
Now, I’m not here to tell you all Europeans are robots who do exactly everything their governments tell them to do, but they made a choice to accept the PROVEN SCIENCE about what COVID-19 does, how it spreads, how to stop that spread, and eventually, after some angst, they chose a few changes to promote life. They valued the lives of their neighbors and friends all around them, whom they chose to protect, and as a group they wore masks and washed up and kept their distance even if they really, really didn’t want to.
The Europeans are choosing life. Can we do any less?
The Italian Example
No country was hit harder than Italy when this outbreak started. They ran out of ICU beds and ventilators, and patients were literally dying in hallways and ambulances because the country’s healthcare providers never anticipated having to treat that many seriously ill people all at once and were not prepared for the onslaught. Today, Italy is essentially beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
They have even lent us one of their leading virologists, Ilauria Capua, who is on staff now at the University of Florida. Dr. Capua is trying to understand how to shut COVID-19 down in our country and repair our economy. He had some thoughts about the differences between how the U.S. and Europe have responded to the virus and shared them recently in the Wall Street Journal:
“People in Europe understood what they need to do. They take it seriously,” says Ilaria Capua, an Italian virologist at the University of Florida. “The crisis has been handled differently in different countries, but nobody in Europe is saying this is a nothing crisis.”
Encoded in what he is saying is that the European people believed their leaders, accepted the plain science in front of their faces and did not make COVID-19 compliance into some sort of political litmus test. They created a plan, followed it and their lives are rapidly returning to normal.
Don’t Let Europe Show Us Up
Want to go back to shopping, eating in restaurants and put 312,000 Louisianians back to work? Seems pretty obvious.
It’s important to remember that I love Louisiana and the United States of America, and I honestly wouldn’t live anywhere else. We have freedom, and in this case, I’m asking you all to choose to protect the health and lives of our friends and neighbors so we can move past COVID-19 and start focusing on other problems that we have.
I’m actually very excited that Louisiana’s governor realized that it was “Mask-Up or Shut Down” time and put a state-wide mask order into effect. He’s not picking on you; he’s trying to save lives, and he needs our help. He joins many other mayors, governors and local/state leaders who’ve implemented the same measures to protect their residents and collectively, all citizens.
My faith is strong in all of you. Let’s get this done. Are we going to let Europe show us up?
Straight Talk is, our future is in your hands. Simply put: Keep Your Distance, Wash-Up, #MaskUp. That’s it.