DON BENITO, SPAIN — Every night in Skylar Gingrich’s neighborhood, a chant rings out: ‘Un día menos,’ or ‘one less day.’
It’s a sign of unity and encouragement as Spain enters another day of quarantine because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The lockdown was announced March 15 and is currently set to run until April 25.
Everyone goes out on their balconies at 8 p.m. and gives a round of applause for people like health care and grocery store workers. Someone plays a Spanish song that translates to “I Will Resist,” followed by the national anthem.
“It’s been raining here, but sometimes when the weather’s nice we have a dance party on our balcony,” said Gingrich, 31. “’La Macarena’ and some ABBA, some good stuff. ... I’ve met a couple of neighbors shouting across balconies that I hadn’t talked to before, so that’s been kind of cool.”
Gingrich, a Wenatchee native who moved to Spain in September 2016 to teach English, said developing a routine is the key to getting through quarantine.
Normally, she teaches in two schools and offers private lessons for children and adults. Now, she continues her private classes via Skype and also uses an online platform to teach English to Chinese students.
She’s also been doing yoga from YouTube videos.
“Some days 8 o’clock comes and it’s just a surprise because, between the private classes and making lunch — because now I have time to make proper lunches, nothing quick; I could make a three-course meal if I wanted to — and doing my exercise and things like that, it just really helps the time go by so much quicker,” she said.
Gingrich said that toward the end of February, Spain had only two confirmed cases of COVID-19. They didn’t fully understand the severity of the virus until early March.
By Monday, the country had about 135,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and about 13,000 deaths.
Gingrich and her fiancé share an apartment in Don Benito, a town of about 37,000 roughly 200 miles southwest of Madrid. She said that as of Thursday, there were 127 cases between there and a nearby town.
One of her friends contracted the illness. His case wasn’t severe, though he told her the headaches and fever kept him up for four nights.
Lockdown in Spain means people can only leave home for essential trips, like to the grocery store or pharmacy. The stores are limiting how many people can be inside at once, and only one person per household is allowed, so Gingrich and her fiancé alternate.
She said grocery shopping involves stocking up on the basics — lentils, pasta, rice and bread — as well as frozen meat and vegetables, just in case.
There were no chips on her first trip to the store, and there wasn’t much bread when her fiancé went the next week. However, she said, there’s plenty of toilet paper.
Other businesses that are considered essential and remain open include banks, electronics stores, bookshops and dental or medical clinics.
“Culturally speaking, Spain doesn’t really do delivery,” Gingrich said. “It’s not a concept because meal times are supposed to be shared with people, together at a restaurant if you’re going to go out. The few places that we do have, if it’s a chain, they’re closed. Burger King is not delivering; they’re closed. We do have a locally owned sushi place and pizza place and they’re still delivering.”
Gingrich, who teaches third- through sixth-graders, said teachers have sent supportive messages to their students. March 13 was the last day of school.
“(The kids) are obviously really eager to go outside,” she said. “Here in Spain, we don’t really have the concept of a backyard. We have a balcony and maybe a little terrace, and that’s all the space they have that’s outdoors. Most people go to the plaza or the main square to play, and they can’t do that. They understand. They’re not scared at all. They’re just kind of, ‘This is what we have to do.’”
As for her, she’s only left home twice over the past three weeks — both times for groceries. She used to take 12,000 to 15,000 steps each day but has since stopped wearing her tracker.
The last time she went for a run was March 14. If she’d tried the next day, she said, she could have faced a fine of 1,500 Euros.
Gingrich met her fiancé, Tony, in Spain. He’s from North Carolina and also moved there to teach English.
The two have a long game of gin rummy going, trying to see how high their scores can go. They’ve also been coloring and watching “Star Wars” movies on Disney+.
He waited too long to go to the barbershop, and now those are all closed.
“To keep things fresh and exciting, I gave him a haircut,” Gingrich said. “My first haircut I’ve ever given, but again, new hobbies, new skills you’ll discover during your quarantine.”
They had planned to fly to London on Friday to visit friends, but that trip was canceled and it’s now nearly impossible to fly anywhere. The U.S. Embassy in Spain has said people should plan on staying indefinitely if they didn’t leave right away.
Initially, Gingrich said, she wanted to return to Wenatchee. However, her dad’s other health conditions put him at a higher risk for contracting the virus, and she didn’t want to chance it. Flight times also increased drastically.
She’s maintained regular contact with her family, and friends have also reached out.
“We figure we’re probably two weeks ahead of the U.S. as far as testing and what we’re figuring out and things like that,” she said. “When things started getting really bad here, people in the U.S. were still kind of thinking, ‘It’s like the flu.’ … A lot of friends were like, ‘How are things going?’ That was really nice, but now I kind of feel like I’m the one reaching out and being like, ‘How are you guys doing?’ because now roles are kind of reversed.”
She’s hoping to return to Wenatchee in June, with Tony, and get married next April. However, she said things will only get back to normal if people take precautions and follow guidelines.
“This really has to be about working together,” she said. “At the end of the day, what we’re doing in Spain wouldn’t work if people weren’t willing for it to. In Madrid you have drones enforcing that people are staying indoors, and here you have the military. But at the same time, people aren’t trying to go out and do our own thing. Wenatchee Valley needs to be on the same page.”
With news of Washington’s stay at home order being extended came a lot of different reactions: disbelief, disappointment, anger, and sadness. Many people have expressed frustration about being told to stay home even longer now, while others blame this on fellow citizens for not following the rules. One thing is clear, however: social distancing has taken a toll on all of us.
We feel restless, bored, upset, and in many cases lonely. It is important to keep in mind that isolating ourselves physically from one another does not mean we should do so mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. In fact, now is the time to reach out to friends, family, and neighbors because what we need, now more than ever, is connection and compassion.
We do not always know or understand what people are going through and how they cope with it, but the current pandemic is an experience that we all share and can connect over. While meeting up may be out of the question now, this is a good time to pick up the phone and call some of the people we have not talked to in some time, write an email, or even send an old-fashioned letter.
Often regarded as the enemy of meaningful connection, the internet has also made it easy in this time to stay in touch with loved ones near and far through social media, video chat, and even online events that people can attend “together.” Professionals, artists, and individuals have been offering concerts, lessons, and even church services to stream online that can be watched from home and can be a good way to remain connected with others even while stuck at home.
- The NCW Behavioral Health Chelan-Douglas Crisis Hotline: 662-7105 or (800) 852-2923
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline (Online Chat Available): (800) 273-8255 / TTY: (800)799-4889
- Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio (en español): (888) 628-9454
- Anonymous Crisis Text-Line: Text HELLO to 741741
- Crisis Line For Teens and Youth (6- 10 p.m. PST): 1-866-TEENLINK / (866) 833-6543
- National Child Abuse Hotline: (800) 422-4453
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673
- Veterans Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255, chat online, or send a text message to 838255
- Vets4Warriors: (855) 838-8255 (Peer support for vets, military, and families), vets4warriors.com
- Washington Recovery Help Line: (866) 789-1511 (24-hour help for substance abuse, problem gambling and mental health), warecoveryhelpline.org
- Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386 (crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, resources, social networking), thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Chelan/Douglas: namicd.org
- The Greater Wenatchee Valley Community Resource Directory, wwrld.us/resource
- SAGE (Safety Advocacy Growth Empowerment): support for domestic violence, sexual assault and more, findsafety.org, 24/7 Crisis Line: (509) 663-7446
- Substance Abuse Family and Friend Support Group: (509) 662-9673
- Family Caregiver Support Group (Aging & Adult Care of Central WA): (509) 886-0700.
- Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group, The Compassionate Friends Wenatchee Valley Chapter: 860-3620
- Community Housing Network: providing coordinated access to housing and shelter for residents of Chelan and Douglas counties. Call 888-9035 (8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays)
- Northwest Justice Project: It provides critical civil legal assistance and representation to thousands of low-income people in cases affecting basic human needs such as family safety and security, housing preservation, protection of income, access to health care, education and other basic needs.
Equally important is compassion — both for ourselves and others. We are all struggling to make sense of what is happening and to maintain a sense of control while life as we know it seems out of control. People worry about their health and that of loved ones, their relationships, their jobs, and their ability to take care of their families.
We all handle worry and uncertainty differently, and at times it is difficult to understand why people do the things they do in the face of difficult situations. It is easy to condemn those that we think are acting selfishly and with disregard for others, as has been brought up recently in relation to individuals panic buying and hoarding supplies or expressing the desire to defy the request for social distancing. Yet, it is likely that most of us are in some way acting differently than we would usually. Maybe we are more anxious, more stressed, more frustrated, more absent-minded, or more demanding — and that is to be expected when we are dealing with the unexpected.
Thus, instead of berating ourselves and others for the way we feel and act these days and focusing on the “Why,” maybe we can reach out instead and ask for the “What” and “How:” “What do you need right now?” and “How can I help?”
Even though we may not be able to provide whatever is lacking, we may provide comfort, reassurance, and a sense of belonging — the very things that bring us together and give us hope in difficult times. There is no greater way of showing that we are all in this together and care about our community and the people in it than sharing and allowing others to share their concerns with us. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes: “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” This is true for compassion, as well, and if we want to make a difference in others’ lives, the best place to start is with ourselves.
Consider asking yourself the two questions, “What do I need right now?” and “How can I help?” You may be surprised by the answers, but whether you find yourself needing financial or other security during this crisis, an opportunity to unwind and relax, or something different altogether — respond to yourself with the same compassion you would give others. Compassion starts from within and grows from there through our connections —even those made from an appropriate physical distance —with others.
Lina Kurlis is a behavioral medicine consultant and postdoctoral fellow at Columbia Valley Community Health.
I have been hearing folks using two operative words when describing our current socially-distanced day-to-day life: “So far…” As in “Things are going OK so far, but I am starting to freak out.”
Why is it that so many of us are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and yet we’re overtired and less productive? I mean, we aren’t commuting, hopefully we aren’t in unnecessary meetings and we seemingly have fewer interruptions from coworkers… or do we?
Play is critical to development. Yet, when we get stressed or scared as adults, play may be the last thing we consider engaging in with our kids. Leaving our children to figure it all out for themselves is a potential recipe for distraught emotions, misguided behavior, as well as family conflict, in the end. Author and parenting expert, L.R. Knost, wisely instructed, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.”
SEATTLE — After a “massive infusion of new data,” modelers at the University of Washington are painting a much more optimistic picture of the novel coronavirus epidemic in the state, revising sharply downward their estimate of how many people are likely to die and suggesting Washington may have already passed the peak of hospitalizations.
The UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) says the state can expect roughly 632 deaths, compared to an estimate 10 days ago of more than 1,400 fatal cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
IHME Director Christopher Murray said the analysis shows that Washington — the state where the virus first took hold — is also among the first places in the country to begin bringing the epidemic under control. Gov. Jay Inslee cited the improved forecasts in his decision to return 400 ventilators to the national stockpile for use in harder-hit areas.
Nationwide, IHME is now projecting about 82,000 deaths through early August, down from an earlier estimate of 93,500. And while shortages of hospital and ICU beds will continue to be acute in hot spots like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, many other parts of the country seem to have enough capacity to deal with a wave of severe infections expected to peak in most states by April 16, the analysis finds.
But the improved outlook is contingent on maintaining strict social-distancing measures, including closure of schools and nonessential businesses, at least through the end of May, Murray said Monday in a press briefing via Zoom.
“If you ease up prematurely ... the potential for rebound is enormous.”
No model is perfect, and the numbers and trends are not guaranteed to be correct. But new information pouring in from Italy, Spain and the East Coast has greatly improved the researchers’ confidence in their results, Murray said. The UW group is currently the only source of state-by-state projections.
“We are acutely aware of the importance for us to get this right, because we don’t want to mislead decision makers,” he said. “At least for now, I think our models are the best that are available for ... looking at the course of the epidemic across states.”
The possibility that Washington has already “flattened the curve” of the epidemic is borne out by observations at area hospitals. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 infections at UW Medicine’s three Seattle hospitals has held steady at about 120 over the past five days, said Lisa Brandenburg, the facilities’ president.
The new UW forecasts also aligns more closely with patient counts at Swedish Health Services’ five hospitals in the Seattle area, said Chris Dale, chief quality officer. The peak number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Swedish so far was 102 on April 2. By Monday, it was down to 97.
Earlier in the spring, Swedish was bracing for up to 256 patients in intensive care units. But through Monday, there had been fewer than 60 at a time.
The UW hospitals haven’t had to add bed capacity or boost their staff above normal levels, thanks to the cancellation of most elective surgeries and other procedures. There also doesn’t appear to be a statewide shortage of ventilators, Brandenburg said.
“We are feeling increasingly confident we can handle the surge.”
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms statewide also suggests a downward trend, according to information released last week by the Washington Department of Health.
Though testing levels are inconsistent, the number of new cases confirmed daily in King County has been generally declining since March 26. An apparent spike of 269 new infections reported April 5 included delayed results from previous days’ testing, health officials said.
“I think it’s too early to be confident, but I do feel we are moving in the right direction,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County. “The progress is very tenuous because as soon as we start getting together again and having more contact, the number of serious infections and deaths will start to rise.”