Of Covid-19 Scenarios and Indoor Hobbies

This morning, I just realized that I already read 30 books for the year 2020 due to the enhanced community quarantine. I have a Goodreads account (add me up in there if you are also into books!) where I put in the books I intend to read and it has been incredibly helpful in keeping track of the books I have read this year and want to read in the future.

Staying indoors may be introducing a lot of new hobbies to people in the world today. Some of my friends have taken to gardening, taking online courses that are offered for free during Covid-19, or learning a new language using Duolingo app. It’s every nerd’s fantasy world if you take out the fatality rates of this horrendous covid-19 pandemic.

As an introvert, with the exception of grocery issues, my routine of reading books has been amplified by the inability to go outside and have other leisure activities.

Another obsession in the research community by anxious math geeks on lockdown is making epidemic models that predict the course of the coronavirus problem in the world.

In line with this, I recently attended a very interesting podcast about epidemic modeling for Covid-19 hosted by Data Ethics Philippines. It emphasized the need for appropriate domain knowledge to be able to map an epidemic outbreak and not make speculative models that scare a lot of people.

Here at CoronaTracker, we have medical doctors and researchers joining us in our explorations because we don’t want to be misled by a purely mathematical perspective. These statistics are not just numbers on a chart; these are real live human beings whose lives are being changed or sometimes even being claimed by this virus.

The math nerd in me is still itching to play around with some variables so I also took some time to check out this tool of Neherlab made by a bunch of coding epidemiologists who took some time to study possible scenarios of Covid-19 in selected countries. They call it the Covid-19 Scenarios Explorer. You basically input parameters like population, number of hospital beds, infectious period, and many others, and then it will generate the compartmentalized SEIR model of the virus for a country, like this:

It is very interesting to me how much of technology has been tapped to create insights like this readily available to the general public.

Despite the scary and invisible enemy that is Covid-19, we have all these technological tools and there is so much room to innovate from exploring vaccine solutions to even simple things like conserving the data by updating numbers on a spreadsheet. We here at CoronaTracker have our live dashboard and our research here and so many others out there are doing impressive mixing of domain expertise and technology work to help combat this virus in their own way. It’s not in a front-liner kind of way, but every little bit helps and goes a long way especially when powered by a lot of people.

As we turn the page in Covid-19 when all this is over, I hope our book of history in the future tells us of a happy ending powered by technology and a spirit of goodwill among people.

Give Yourself a High Five If You’re Reading This

“We are living in unprecedented times…” If only I get a penny for every time I see these words in an article. Is it overused or a cliche? How I wish that’s the truth but it is anything but. The reality is we ARE living in unprecedented times. If you’re reading this right now, give yourself a high five for it means that you’re educated and have access to the Internet. You also probably have a roof over your head, electricity, clean water supply and food to eat. You’re alive and healthy right now, and for that I am grateful.

As the Corona virus continues to spread, 27 countries to date are putting their citizens in some forms of lock down to slow down the infection spread. When China first reported cases in Wuhan, not many countries had the foresight to make full use of the lead time given. Those that didn’t, are currently suffering the brunt of the lack of epidemic preparedness and outbreak response. According to a WHO infectious disease expert, countries on lock down should take a leaf out of Singapore’s playbook. Some of the measures outlined include isolating and quarantining cases, contact tracing, temperature checks, enacting business continuity plans and maintaining social distance.

A lock down merely serves to buy us time in the race of disease containment. It is the systems and measures that we put in place as we ease ourselves out of lock down that’s going to make or break our economy in times of recession. As country leaders, policy makers and the frontliners race against time to preserve our countries, you might wonder what can you do to ease the cogs of the running wheels. It is imperative to remember that everyone has a role to play in this society, be it big or small.

I am grateful and blessed that all I need to contribute in this war against the pandemic is to stay safe in the comforts of my own home. Dilemma about what to eat for my next meal or jump on the bandwagon of trying out new Cov-EAT recipes like Dalgona coffee or omelette souffle seems trivial when our frontliners are sacrificing their lives out there keeping the collective society running.

I wanted to help contribute in any way I can and when I came across Corona Tracker, a community based platform powered by a team of more than 500 global volunteers dedicating their time and energy to provide verified information and updates, that I know that THIS is how I can add value to the society in my own little way. I’m not a freelance writer nor have I published anything before but I hope that if you are reading this out there, that you may find some comfort in the words I weave, born out of the thoughts of my occasional frazzled mind in times of adversity.

Fortunately, not all is doom and gloom as this forced reset is benefiting mother nature with less carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The skies are blue again and the birds are chirping. It’s nice that mother nature gets a little reprieve after the toll we put her through.

The question is, as we adjust to this new normal, what are the things worth returning to when this is all over? As we ponder over that with the extra time we have on hand, in the interim we can continue to bring little pockets of joy to our community, to add value as, and when we can.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that tugs at the heart strings. The smile of your food delivery driver when you offer him/her a drink out of your set meals, when you hold the door open for a neighbour carrying groceries or offering to help your elderly neighbours to buy groceries when you buy yours. These little things matter. We may not be out there saving lives or helping to keep the society running, but we can help each other. We CAN choose kindness and it is through our collective empathy and responsibility that will tide us over this storm.

As you ponder over what to eat for your next meal, add one more to the bucket. What can you do today to bring a smile to another and while you’re at it, give yourself another high five. I know I am giving you one over the Internet.

Stay Safe and Stay Home. Together, we will prevail.

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers during Covid-19

My son and I went to our garden today and we spent an hour looking at flowers and sitting by the stairs near the gate. The baby was asleep and my husband was cooking spaghetti in the kitchen while we puttered around with the birds and the bees outside in the yard. We’re not allowed to go beyond the gate in keeping with social distancing here in the Philippines.

Take time to smell the flowers.

These days, we have maximized every possible nook and cranny of our house. The locks that malfunctioned that needed attention are suddenly DIY projects for my husband and he actually has the time to do them at home.

I’ve come to appreciate my home more during this lockdown. We’ve always had the garden but I never had the time to take a closer look at what’s in there. It’s only now during this lockdown that I was able to spend time with my 3-year-old son and sing nursery rhymes while he picked two flowers to give to me this afternoon. These are tiny moments with a toddler that we quickly lose in the sands of time. When he grows up, I know that this is one of the biggest moments to treasure with my child.

However, this is no regular spring vacation. Silently and inside my head I keep asking the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “When will this end?”

And the fact that there are no clear answers to that question is a cause for worry or anxiety. I have seen better days than recent days in social media where people are on edge and experiencing a lot of new and intense emotions. I have been used to working from home so the lockdown or quarantine introduced less of a jolting adjustment to me and my husband. I rarely go out of the house and we are both introverts. But this is not the case for my other friends and family members who are used to being out and about before the social distancing measures began. It must be incredibly difficult to suddenly be tied down to a single place especially if one is a jetsetter before the lockdowns began.

What keeps me going is the faith and the optimism that the whole world will overcome this. There are some tiny things to thank for in the midst of this lockdown. The world’s air quality has improved and the earth seems to be healing itself in the midst of the quarantine protocols.

Aside from that, there is more time for family members to spend with each other. And in family matters, the little things are really the big things. I have seen firsthand how efficient my husband is when he does the grocery runs and my love for him has grown even more these days. It’s a challenge and occasionally suffocating to be with the same person 24/7, literally. But for the most part, being together on a government-imposed lockdown with enough food while being covid-19 negative is a PRIVILEGE during these trying times. Not everyone is as lucky, and this gift must be received with gratitude despite the challenges of this pandemic.

The front-liners are out there suffering the risk of infection and being away from loved ones. They help keep me safe at home. In the midst of my mommy and wife duties and CoronaTracker volunteer work, I utter a prayer here and there for the front-liners like medical workers and food industry workers who have to keep going with some risk of exposure to this invisible enemy called covid-19.

These would have been unthinkable if the situation did not require all of us to literally slow down. We are now forced to take time to smell the flowers, and in spite of the genuine challenges of this lockdown, there is some genuine good that can come out of that.

Covid-19 Hits Close to 1 Million Cases Globally; How’s Your Mental Health?

Data from CoronaTracker today indicates that over 1 million cases from official sources have already been recorded for the covid-19 virus all over the world. This still happened despite the numerous collective efforts of lowering transmission rates by social distancing and flattening the curve for some locations. 

In most countries, people are fraught with anxiety of the uncertainty of the lockdown protocols and the risks of catching the virus via local transmission. With the exception of countries like Sweden which has taken a rather stoic approach to the coronavirus threat, most countries’ daily activities are interrupted significantly and most brick and mortar businesses are forced to undertake a contingency plan or some form of digital transformation in order to keep business operations running albeit in an irregular manner.

The ongoing lockdown protocols in various countries are transforming landscapes and people. The IMF recently called in a global economic recession, airline operations halted because there was diminished demand for commercial travel, and one of the few perks is that the air quality in some areas has improved significantly because people are staying in their homes. 

People are now advised to stay at home and practice social distancing. While this is hardly threatening news for introverts who are happy curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, it may significantly be a huge problem for the more gregarious people who are used to being on the go, traveling, or meeting outside with family and friends. Given this invisible pandemic tying most people to their homes and the rising number of covid-19 cases in the news, it’s incredibly challenging and if unchecked, it might take a toll on one’s mental health. 

A lot of self-care is in order in addition to caring for the more vulnerable segments of the population like the elderly and the immunocompromised people who can have adverse and fatal reactions to the coronavirus once it enters their body systems. Some of the things that can help lower anxiety involve meditating, doing yoga or stretching exercises, gardening (if the space and climate allows it), talking to friends even through video chat or messaging apps, engaging in DIY projects (a Lego model, perhaps?), and learning new things. 

A lot of companies are offering lessons for free in the wake of the pandemic locking people in their homes. It’s good to take advantage of these resources which usually cost a lot under regular pricing. One such example is the Coursera MOOCs offered specifically during this season of covid-19 social distancing

Another way to channel or divert the negative energies is by means of volunteering or helping beat covid-19 in some form. For me, personally, volunteering for CoronaTracker has helped me significantly in coping with the uncertainty and the troubles that are happening globally because of the pandemic. We are using science, verified official data, and analytics to beat the pandemic.

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