Dear Observatory residents and businesses,
We are living through one of the most extraordinary challenges facing South Africa and the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing everything about our lives for the foreseeable future. As I write this, 202 people in South Africa have tested positive for the virus and, thankfully, none have died. But the number of cases is forecast to rise steeply as the epidemic takes hold in South Africa. So, things are going to get worse before they get better. As a community, we can do things to support each other so that we can better manage the epidemic.
Firstly, the government has taken a number of strong steps to help slow the epidemic – closed schools, universities, restricted restaurants and bars, banned sports events and large meetings. These steps are geared towards reducing the opportunities for transmission of the virus when people get together – so as to slow the epidemic. The logic of this is that if we ‘flatten the curve’, meaning the rise in cases is flatter, then we will not get a huge number of very sick patients, whose treatment needs will overwhelm the health services’ capacity to treat.
We know that the majority of cases of COVID-19 are mild and those affected will recover – approximately 9 in 10. However, a small minority have disease severe enough to need hospitalization, and, of these, some will need intensive care for pneumonia and other complications. The mortality rate in other countries has varied around 2-3% though it is much higher in Italy, for example. It is older persons, persons with other diseases and people who have immune systems weakened by HIV or other illnesses who are most at risk for severe disease.
But prevention is largely in our hands – literally. The disease is transmitted by droplet spread – meaning that if people with the disease cough or sneeze, they will release high doses of viruses into the air which poses risks to others. For that reason, cough etiquette – meaning covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (preferably into your elbow) is so important. Also, self-isolating when you have respiratory symptoms. The virus also settles on surfaces or can be transmitted if persons infected with the virus touch common surfaces, which is why it is so important to clean surfaces with alcohol-based sanitizers or use sanitizer when entering areas where many other people may have touched surfaces or objects you will touch. For example, that is why wiping down door handles is so important. Remember also that washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to break down any virus on your hands. Wet your hands, lather up with soap, and rub-a-dub-dub for 20 seconds (as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday) before washing the soap off. You will be protecting yourself and others with these simple steps.
But because isolation is the only current tool we have to prevent secondary infections (there is no treatment or vaccine), many people will be on their own, with or without families and are expected to isolate themselves from others. For example, people with mild COVID-19 disease may go home as long as they self-isolate themselves. People who have had contact with other people who have been found to have COVID-19 will be asked to self-quarantine just to be sure that, if they are incubating the illness, they do not expose others. So, many people will be volunteering to isolate themselves to protect others. This is really important to prevent spread but it can be quite lonely. But it will be easier to do if you know you have the support of those around you and the community in which you live.
For that reason, the OCA wants to make this support and advocacy around COVID-19 a big focus of our working in the next while. Some community members have joined in with a City-wide initiate of building Community responses to COVID-19 via a We-Can network – see https://chat.whatsapp.com/KJ08RfK16Nx91ALiYIOm2F. To complement this, the OCA plans to establish a COVID-19 support Task Team which we hope will help with (a) circulating reliable information about COVID-19; (b) working with businesses and other organizations in Obs to reduce risks of COVID-19 transmission; (c) supporting people who need help to manage the COVID-19 epidemic. If you want to get involved in the Task Group, please contact the OCA. Of course, most of the work will be conducted virtually, since we are now in a situation where person-to-person meetings would be the exception, save for small meetings, where precautions of spacing, hand cleaning, and screening (stay away if you have respiratory symptoms or have traveled abroad to risk countries) apply. Working with other grassroots civic groups will not only be very exciting but critically important to implementing measures to reduce the spread of the disease.
There are many sources of information out there, but not all are reliable and some are frankly not to be trusted. Two websites with reliable information are https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ and https://lunginstitute.co.za/2020/03/16/2018-uct-annual-research-function-uct-research-and-innovation-october-2017-2018-edition-2-2/. If you are needing information, I would start with these two sources. There are useful Frequent Ask Questions pages there.
So, if you are willing to get involved in the COVID-19 task group or have useful ideas, please contact OCA email@example.com.
Leslie London – OCA Chair