COVID 19 & Life in Medellin

March 18, 2020

 Money Laundering


COVID 19, the infamous Coronavirus, has arrived in Colombia. So we're hunkered down, taking precautions, preparing for the eventuality that, in time, we'll all be exposed, and likely get the virus. This is like 9/11 in slow motion. It's impossible to ignore, and confusing as hell knowing what to do. Here are a few bad news, good news items from our vantage point as expats in South America.


First: The bad news:


In this strange new world, we're walking a tightrope between being prudent, and being paranoid. It's not an easy trek, but there are several resources coming available to help us navigate this new vulnerability. In an abundance of caution, we've even taken to laundering our $$$. (See photo above) We've seen pictures of lab cultures that have had microbes from paper money applied. It's not pretty. And not something we ordinarily think of when the ATM spits out a handful of cash. We'd like to think that currency has been disinfected, but then we'd like to believe it grows on mango trees, too. (For the record, and to answer your question, no, we didn't iron the money. That would be silly.)



 Selection of Microbes


This picture shows germs growing on paper money and coins. As you can see, it's contaminated with all manner of microbes. The best way to avoid these germs? You could launder your money like we did, which is time consuming, and likely a wasted effort. Or you can use a credit card for every purchase, then swab it down with an anti-bacterial, maybe while washing your hands. To clean the cash like we did, put it in a mesh bag, and wash it by itself with a bit of bleach. 


 Culture of an eight-year-old's hand


Next—hand washing. Like everyone else these days, we've been unable to purchase alcohol based hand sanitizer. My resident nurse has insisted for a very long time that hand washing is the neglected mandate in personal hygiene. So a silver lining of all this Coronavirus disruption could be proving her spot on right about that. The name Coronavirus is derived from corona, meaning sun, so perhaps new light will be shed on long-ignored personal habits that affect everyone. Just so, we never leave the house without our little bottle of anti-illness elixir. (Gracias, mi preciosa, yo comprendo, finally!) We wash our hands eleventy-four times a day.


 Head in Hands


We do it without thought. Without conscious knowledge. But touching our hands to our faces is likely the best vector there is for acquiring microbes. Those microscopic pests are always looking for the easiest route inside our bodies. And the COVID 19 virus is particularly interested in lodging in our lungs. So what's the quickest path inside the lungs? Our noses and mouths. It's an almost impossible habit to break, but all by itself the effort to avoid touching our faces would ensure that we don't at least give the virus to ourselves from the recent touch of a contaminated surface, which describes most surfaces we encounter. The virus can live for hours, or even days, on surfaces and in aerosol matter. 



Clean Hands? Personal Space?


One of the first things we noticed living here in Colombia is that hygienic practices are different from what we were used to. Colombianos think nothing of taking cold showers, and dishwashing etc. is accomplished in similarly cold water. (The cold showers may account for slow population growth, but that's an entirely different post.) Also different is the concept of personal space. Perhaps because they're used to big city life, or perhaps it's a part of Latin culture, but folks crowd together here. It takes a bit of getting used to.


Just so, we always sanitize our hands after departing public transportation, and after leaving any cash and/or people-intensive locale. It's not paranoia; we weren't accustomed to the local microbial flora, at least not at first, so precautions were necessary. We've kept using them, just in case, and we've been very healthy for a long time.



 Human hands are filthy


The elbow or fist bump is the best way to greet someone. Maybe it'll catch on. Maybe not. But at least, unless you've been secluded in a cave, or stranded on an island with only a ball named Wilson for company, the word's out on the street: No more hand shaking, por favor! 


 Mask up!


We've not taken to wearing a protective mask...yet. From our own background and understanding as former workers in the medical field, we avoid their use for now. The reality about masks is that unless the mask is appropriate—an N-95 mask that shields against microscopic particles, for example—and unless it's been custom fitted for you by an expert, which process can take an hour or more, it's likely useless. Recently we've seen many folks wearing their store-bought, paper thin masks that have gaping holes around the edges. Good for them for being aware, I suppose. But the only good those masks offer is to keep those folks from touching their faces, which is fine as far as it goes. But protection against COVID 19 virus inhalation? Forget it.


 House Arrest


As I was writing this post I received a text from a fellow expat. It seems the president of Colombia, Ivan Duque, has issued an edict that essentially places me, and all others more than 70 years old in Colombia, under virtual house arrest. The link above is from El Tiempo, a major periodical in Colombia. It states that the president requires everyone more than 70 years old to remain in their homes from March 20th until the end of May. Here's the primary message:


"Todos los adultos mayores de 70 años deberán permanecer en sus hogares, salvo para abastecerse de bienes de consumo y de primera necesidad, utilizar servicios de salud, adquirir medicamentos y acceder a servicios financieros", explicó Duque.


"All adults older than 70 years must remain in their homes, except for acquiring consumer goods and primary necessities, using health services, acquiring medicines, and accessing financial services." the president said.


The move is necessary, even if it may be a hardship for people. There are a lot of Colombianos who still work every day at age 70, so it remains to be seen what they will do. But the purpose of the edict is to avoid swamping the health care system if (When?) people in my demographic, in other words those most vulnerable, start acquiring the virus. So to my colleagues at weekly break-dancing class, hasta luego for now. See you in May, I hope.

The Good News!


Now for some news on the lighter side. It's becoming obvious that the Coronavirus scare is being taken seriously all over the world. Whether from health and wellness, or from personal/financial/political factors, people seem to be pulling together. This is a very good thing. The only way we'll defeat the COVID 19 virus is the same way we acquired it, collectively. Here, (thanks to fellow bloggers The Pazeras and FaceBook), are some recent refreshing developments:


1—First possible anti-viral enters testing phase.


Researchers in Seattle have started actual in-human inoculations of a test vaccine against COVID 19. This test serum contains no trace of the Coronavirus itself, so these volunteers cannot acquire the illness from it, yet it is hoped that the vaccine will guard against COVID 19. On a side note, according to research staff at Johns-Hopkins in Baltimore, antibodies from COVID 19 survivors may be useful in building a vaccine.The only peril involved in these recent discoveries is that they may impart a false hope, or a premature sense of relief, allowing us to resume life as normal.



2—Distillers across the country are crafting their own hand sanitizers to fill the shortage. Like that produced by Old Fourth distillery in Atlanta, the recipe doesn't work as well as true alcohol-based sanitizer, but it will serve as a good substitute until supplies of the real thing are readily available. And who knows, it may help create a habit of hand washing into the bargain.


3—Service industry entities are stepping up, coming to the rescue of endangered and/or marginal businesses. Companies such as Uber, with its affiliate Uber Eats feature, are providing free or at-cost services to their associated business partners. Acknowledging their symbiotic relationship, Uber Eats is suspending the delivery fee for restaurants and other food providers. 


4—Various other institutions are providing assistance outside their normal purview. For example, Dollar General has announced that they'll be devoting their opening hour of shopping time to elderly customers. Athletes and sports teams are pledging to pay the wages of arena employees during the shutdown. Utility companies, landlords, automakers, and internet providers are waiving a number of late fees and payments to ease the financial burden of the shutdown. School districts across the country are still opening their doors to serve meals to kids and families, if not for classes.


At our house


Here in my tiny jail cell, I'm doing my part to avoid contact with others, and to stay healthy. We're having our afternoon 'quarantinis,' and staying home. Here are a few more things we're doing.


 Stocked up


We've put our newfound knowledge of plant based eating to work. We've stocked the larder with beans, and greens, and in-betweens, the staples we've used for months to make delicious, nutritious Whole Foods, Plant Based meals. 


 Wine Cellar


Like triage, critical items are being addressed. Wine is more than the answer to life's most pressing questions; wine is therapeutic and affirming. Without wine, our corks would desiccate, and our vines would run to weeds. That will never do.


 No Baileys? No Problem.


Yet more proof that our plant-based menu effort is paying dividends: We now make our own Baileys! The recipe is simple: A touch of cashew cream, a bit of powdered chocolate, a tad maple syrup, and a tumbler or two of Jameson, and we're in business. We call our vegan concoction Vaileys, of course. 


The COVID 19 virus is a scourge of the modern age that epidemiologists have predicted for years. We should not be surprised that the menace is now in our midst. Here's hoping we all pay attention, do what the experts tell us, (not that of the emotional, and/or avaricious saprophytes among us), and we'll get through this together. So keep a social distance, sneeze into your elbow, stay home if you feel ill, use the fist or elbow bump, and wash your hands—often! And if you want our Vaileys recipe, let us know. Thanks for reading. 



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