I could really use some company.
As I sit here writing this column from my bed like I’m some sort of Carrie Bradshaw, it would be easy for me to let the stir-craziness get to me. I could start going back into the office to work, as I do work in one of the countless “essential industries” after all. Or maybe I could call my friends and go set up a volleyball net in Romare Bearden and throw caution and germs to the wind.
But feeling cooped up in a quarantine is just a matter of perspective. After all, I have a roof, a bed, a dog that’s lying here staring at me wondering if I lost my job. Things could be much worse.
For many people in Charlotte and around the country, they are. Look at New York City, the biggest hot spot city in the biggest hot spot country, where thousands of essential employees — not only health-care workers but the folks who clean up after them, restaurant workers, delivery people, etc. — have to ride public transportation every day just to survive, all the while putting their lives at risk.
Or the folks living in a tent city on North College Street here in Charlotte, unsure of where they can go to remain safe or access the resources they need. On the locked gates of the Urban Ministry Center, where many of our homeless neighbors gather, get a meal and receive services daily, a staff member recently left a note: “Hey Neighbors! I miss you! Thinking of you all the time! Please know I love you!” The note was as colorful as the sea of tents nearby.
Or people like Cat Williams, whom I spoke with for our last issue. Williams is suffering from end-stage cystic fibrosis and as long as the COVID-19 situation drags out, she won’t be able to attend pulmonary rehab to get where she needs to be for a double lung transplant. She’s at especially high risk if she leaves the house, but this waiting game is a matter of life and death for her.
Then there are people like Melissa, a nurse working at an Atrium Health hospital in Charlotte (whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity). When I spoke with her at the end of March, though she carried some anxiety about going to work, she had the fullest confidence that her employer was doing everything possible to protect her and her coworkers and that they would be more than ready to face the coming peak of COVID-19 patients.
It’s been less than a week since we had that discussion, and already Melissa’s whole perspective has changed. She texted me after finishing a recent shift and told me she feared that she was “too nice” with the insights she shared with me just six days prior. It was clear things had taken a turn for her.
“It’s like Black Friday at Walmart,” Melissa told me, referring to how nurses and other workers have become petty and protective over the small amount of available personal protective equipment that keeps them safe on the job. “It’s embarrassing.”
So we talked again, because while I have heard plenty of talk about PPE shortages happening countrywide, it becomes real when you hear from someone who has to face that risk every day when they go to work.
Melissa’s concerns are part of this week’s cover story, which takes a look at what is being done locally to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases, expected to peak in Mecklenburg County sometime between mid-April and mid-May.
On April 2, the county’s two biggest health-care providers, Atrium and Novant Health, asked the county to assist in implementing a field hospital on the UNC Charlotte campus, which will help them care for up to 3,000 more COVID-19 patients during the peak. Then last night at a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners meeting, officials with those two providers updated the board, stating that plans had changed to build a smaller one closer to Uptown that would treat up to 600 patients. That was partly because social distancing is working, and partly because the federal and state governments have left the county on their own.
So what can we do in all this? Exactly what most of us have been doing: sitting in our respective homes and social distancing. According to new models released by UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and RTI on the day that I’m writing this, if we were to stop social distancing at the end of this month, about 750,000 people could be infected by the end of June. The same model predicted that if we keep social distancing through the end of May, that number could be as low as 250,000.
Locally, recent models state that just sticking to 30% social distancing (though I’m not sure how that’s measured) could drop the number of hospitalizations from 8,500 to 4,700, with those being over a longer period of time so as not to overwhelm the hospitals.
The way I see it, we can do a hell of a lot better than 30%. There are folks like Melissa and Cat who are counting on us. There are folks waiting on their restaurant jobs to come back who are counting on us. There are folks on College Street who are counting on us.
Let’s not let them down.