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Planning a Healthy Life while Keeping the Coronavirus at Bay

Dr. Saraswati Sukumar, PhD

Worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has affected more than one million people with a death toll of more than one-hundred thousand.  This is, by far, the most frightening, worrisome, and widespread pandemic that we have witnessed in our lifetime.  We will address two burning questions on everyone’s mind: Why is this virus different? and How do we keep a semblance of our old life as we navigate this new landscape?

What is a coronavirus?  SARS-CoV-2, as this virus is called, is tiny, about 1/250,000 of an inch in diameter. When it encounters a cell, the virus enters the cell and uses the cell’s machinery to produce many new copies of itself. Other members of the coronavirus family have been with us for a long time, and most of them are relatively harmless—they are frequent causes of the common cold. However, this particular coronavirus is much more dangerous, as it infects cells in the airways leading to the lungs and can develop into pneumonia.  Moreover, it can retain its infectivity for a period of several days, even on solid surfaces like a doorknob.

Where did this virus come from? SARS-CoV-2 is practically identical to viruses living in bats in China. Because of this fact, we are quite confident that SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that “jumped” from bats to humans in late 2019. These jumps from one host species to another happen from time to time; in fact, another coronavirus, SARS-CoV-1, jumped from bats to humans in China in 2002, and an unrelated virus jumped from chimpanzees into humans in the mid-20th century, becoming HIV, which is the cause of AIDS.

So, in the wake of this pandemic, we have been given a set of rules by our biomedical experts to keep the virus at bay. This includes frequent hand washing, wearing masks and gloves, keeping 6 feet or more away from others, and refraining from group meetings, etc. to slow down its spread.  If we all get infected at the same time, the medical care facilities will not have the people or ventilators to take care of a sudden inflow of sick people, and many more people will die.

In this “lock down” time, scientists are working hard on drugs to kill the virus and develop a vaccine that would then reverse the terrible course of this disease. In the meantime, our lives have changed drastically. We are not working at all, or working from home. Schools and colleges are closed. We cannot move around freely and social gatherings are prohibited. It feels hopeless.

However, I believe we can change the doom-and-gloom scenario into something far more meaningful and positive. We have been granted the boon of an oasis of quiet. My virologist husband and I are using this chance to catch up with all postponed tasks in a quiet, thoughtful way. It has afforded us plenty of time to think creatively and productively. It is springtime, and the earth is alive again after a long winter.  What a lovely time to enjoy nature, potter in the garden, take long walks, look at the birds and catch up on exercise!  And very importantly, connect with our loved ones. We can also give ourselves the gift of time to achieve inner peace through meditation.  In fact, this pandemic is telling us in no uncertain terms to re-evaluate our lives.

Our world is a fragile place, and due to world-travel, we are all intimately interconnected. The virus does not favor the rich or the poor, nor does it look at nationality, religion, creed or color.  What affects you, affects me! Now, more than ever, let us all appreciate our “oneness” and shun “otherness.” Meditation has the power to bring about empathy and love for all humans.  Now more than ever, this message is significant.

 

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