Transcription of Episode 12 - COVID-19

As Salaam Alyakum everyone,

You are listening to She Speaks: Academic Muslimahs.

And I am your host, Saba Fatima.

This week, I decided to scrap the usual format and do an episode on the Coronavirus, called COVID-19.

But before I begin, I must urge everyone to please subscribe to the podcast, share with your friends, your family, anyone, everyone. Our topics vary, from episode to episode and we generally talk about stuff that is interesting to everyone. Episodes come out every other Friday.

So, the Coronavirus, called COVID-19. I, and I am sure many of you, have been constantly obsessing about the virus, reading various articles, or emails, WhatsApp discussion groups, and all of this obsessing is messing with my head.

My aim here is to just provide some basic information. All the scientific information I have gathered is from reliable sources.

So, let me start with what we know:

We can’t have truly accurate numbers about how many people are infected, without the benefit of time and money.

Its only after the pandemic is over, can we really know the scope. In fact, we may never know the scope because many people have mild symptoms and will never get tested.

Why do we need money, because, people would need to be tested in mass numbers in order for us to know how many people who have contracted the virus, then go on to die from the virus. As of right now, the United states does not have the capacity to test people in mass numbers. For example, in my local area, there is only one hospital that is said to have the test kits on site, and that also in very limited quantity.

But we can think about what we should be doing, by looking at other nations where the outbreak is quite intense.

Let me just read to you an email from the SIUE (that’s my institution) faculty and staff discussion listserv from Dr. Cristina De Meo, Professor or Organic Chemistry at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

She wrote on the listserv, she says:

“As Italian, I want to share what is really happening there. Hospitals in the North of Italy cannot accept any more patients as they do not have enough respirators and space for them. They stopped in counting and testing as they overreached their capacities. Even if the mortality rate and the age group might not be considered threatening more than the flu, in the reality the patients who need ICU are of different age groups, and many are dying. And not those who have mild cold, who are at home. We are talking about pneumonia, and the need of respirators. Doctors are forced to choose who to help and who to not, as they run out of respirators (more are coming from China, btw). Yesterday the president of the Doctors Association of Varese died at the hospital. He was 67 years old with no pre-exciting conditions. In my hometown nurses and doctors run out of masks and gloves. Many hospitals are sending cancer patients home to accommodate patients infected by the virus. This is a country where healthcare is free and being tested is also free. Today the Italian Prime Minister announced that the government will financially support all the citizen whose income has been compromised by the lockdown and will decrease taxes.

I am just writing this email as we have the tendency of looking at other countries thinking they are different than us. In this case the difference is the free testing, the free healthcare for everybody and the government financial support. The infrastructures are good and the level of professionalism is high. They just have too many seriously infected patients at the same time. I just hope the situation in Italy, which sadden me deeply, will help us to reflect” (quoted with permission).

So, heavy stuff, but I agree with Dr. De Mayo which is that we need to realize that America is not an exception to virus, that we are not immune to what has now been declared as a pandemic by the WHO, World Health Organization.

So what can we do?

You probably know these things, but here it is:

1. Please wash your hands often, each time for 20 seconds – this is somewhat built into many Muslim cultures because we do wudu throughout the day, which requires us to wash our hands three times and our arms, face, and feet. Muslim cultures also already contain elements where we wash our hands before we eat. We use water to wash our genitals when we use the bathroom and wash our hands before we exit the bathroom.

But I would say, double up your hand washing routines. For example, if you just went to Target, or Sam’s, or Costco or wherever, wipe down the cart with the sanitizing wipe at the door but then also wash your hands when you get home. So that’s the first one, wash your hands!

2. Second up, practice social distancing:

So, this might be harder for Muslim cultures. As you know, the holy months of Rajab, Shaban and Ramadan are upon us, and these months generally filled with a ton of events planned within them.

But given the outbreak, please limit or stop going altogether to gatherings. I know many mosques have cancelled their events within US, UK, and Europe.

The virus is thought to spread mainly through person-to-person contact, between people who are in close contact with one another, within 6 feet, of each other. So, it can spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in another person’s mouth or nose who are nearby and then these can be inhaled by an uninfected person, therefore getting infected. These droplets can also land on hard surfaces, and then the virus can live on that surface for a while. And then you can touch that surface, and get infected.

So, don’t go to places where too many people have been because chances are that an infected person has coughed there or sneezed there and you are likely to get infected yourself.

Given that the rate of transmission is high, if you can afford to stay home, please do!

And I understand this is not a privilege that everyone has, but you have that privilege, use it. Even if you are a healthy adult, and you are like I am not in the demographic where I should be scared, but you can afford to stay home, then stay home.

If you do meet people, don’t shake hands, don’t hug, don’t kiss on the cheeks. If you feel really inclined, you can throw up a Vulcan sign or something.

But maintain physical distance!

3. Of course, Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, or at all.

4. Disinfect your home, your car, your workspace often.

And then last, but not least,

5. If you do exhibit any symptoms, please self-isolate.

So the symptoms include runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, and in severe cases, difficulty breathing. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, then stay home, and do not interact with other people. In this scenario, it would be wise if you have your medications ready at home. You should have some kind of pain killers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and body aches, maybe something from nasal decongestion, maybe something for nasal irrigation, stuff that you use for your regular cold, maybe a decongestant that your doctor has okayed for you.

I would say, even have a backup person assigned to shop for you in case you need to self-isolate. And of course, keep hydrated. Other things to do when you are sick, avoid public areas, avoid public transport, limit your contact with pets. If you are going to go to the doctor, call ahead. Wear a facemask if you are infected. If you are not infected, please don’t hog up all the facemasks, you are taking it away from people who really need it to protect us from getting infected. Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then dispose the tissue right away, and then wash your hands immediately for 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. And then of course, clean and disinfect the surfaces around your home, where you have been. If you feel like your illness is worsening, then definitely seek medical attention. And call into the hospital before going in and try to go in with a facemask.

So that’s just basic information that you should know about COVID-19, but there is a lot of strange information that has been floating around the internets. And I just want to go through a few of them, not all of then, just a few of them that I have seen in many of the platforms that I engaged in.

So one thing that I often hear is, one thing that I have heard is what about the flu?? Why are we blowing this up? The flu kills more people every year.

Well, according to the World Health Organization’s director-general, COVID-19 caused a more severe disease than the seasonal flu and while people around the world may have built up an immunity to the flu over time, because COVID-19 is new, we don’t have any to it and we are more people were susceptible to infection.

There are other versions of this argument of what about the flu that I have also heard, which are that people in the global south are dying of malaria and diarrhea, why do we care about this one so much, is it because, you know, you know, the rich in the global north are getting it?

No, no… we care about this one because the virus has spread to 110 countries, and we need to contain it before it impacts the most vulnerable within our populations.

Another thing that I hear from few folks is Well, I am young, and I don’t need to worry so much

So, if you’re generally healthy and under 65, and you develop COVID-19, the chances are high that you’ll only experience very mild symptoms — something like the flu.

About 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild, and you should be fine.

However, you shouldn’t be just thinking about your own personal risk, but everyone else’s as well.

I am being ass careful as I can be, as I live with my parents.

I am young and relatively healthy. If I get infected, it is inevitable that they will be too.

So, I would have a cold type of, you know, couple of weeks, but they would suffer very bad consequences from me getting infected. I would say, alter your behavior as if someone you loved or lived with was at high risk of becoming seriously sick or dying.

As Zeynep Tufekci put it in a recent piece for Scientific American:

"We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society [....] you should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare — especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.”

So, so far the Chinese Center for Disease and Prevention, the numbers that they have put out, if you are between ages of 60-69, your mortality rate is 3.6%, 70-79 8%, and above 80 it is about 14.8%. that is quite dire for the elderly.

The other thing that I have heard is I must go and buy all the things!!!

So, this one is really, I don’t know, frustrating. I would say buy the essentials, things you need if you need to self-isolate for 2 weeks. But don’t buy all the things. This is not only selfish, it doesn’t make sense. If you take all the hand sanitizers off the shelf, other people cannot disinfect themselves! If you take all the soap, other people can’t have soap, and so on, and so forth.

There is also the fact that I have no idea why, but Americans are buying up toilet paper in bulk, there is no toilet paper at Walmart! What is going on? This is where, you know, us Muslim folks sort of smile because you know we use water in the bathroom.

Lota Zindabad!

But yes, I don’t understand, what is the obsession with toilet paper.

And the last thing that I want to talk about is stuff that I have seen floating around on various social media platforms, mostly WhatsApp groups, which is that if you do xyz, all will be ok.

So, this, I kind extremely infuriating. A message will be put on some WhatsApp group and before you know it, it will be forwarded to a million WhatsApp groups, and its super frustrating.

So, that thing, that xyz is like washing your hands, maintaining physical distance, and avoiding mass gatherings, things that the CDC has put out as guidelines, please stop spreading bizarre cures.

Not transcribed min 14:08 – 19:58 : mostly because I am very tired, and have kids, and a full time job, and parents, etc. I really wish I could transcribe it all!! But each minute is taking a very long time. I have tried to transcribe the more informational aspects. I hope this is helpful to lots of folks.