• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Testing negative and retrieving squandered time

My heart raced when the Joint Information Office released the latest Covid-19 tally last week. It listed the numbers of confirmed positives, negatives and inconclusive results. Where do I fall into these statistics? My heart was going tump-tump, tump-tump,tump-tump. The anxiety of waiting can be tormenting.

I had the test at 6 p.m. the day before and was told to wait within 24 to 48 hours. “You are officially in quarantine. Stay home,” Dr. Akimoto said after swabbing up my nostrils.

I spent the next two days clock-watching and fidgeting, until Dr. Akimoto called on Friday. “You’re negative,” he said.

I heaved a sigh of relief. He prescribed “three sunrises and two sunsets.”

Doctors say sunshine is an excellent shield against viruses. It is, however, one of those medical theories that are subject to scientific debate. UV radiation that is given off from the sun is not strong enough to kill Covid-19, says the other camp. But in the absence of a vaccine or known cure for Covid-19 at this time, sunrises and sunsets are better than nothing. In these dark hours, sunlight offers a ray of hope.

I wasn’t really worried that I might not recover had I tested positive. I’m fairly healthy for my age. I don’t have any existing condition, which gives me reason to believe that my immune system is still reliable. More than being bedridden, what frazzled me was the thought of being an unwitting weapon of mass destruction, spreading coronavirus along my path.

I began feeling sick about three weeks ago. I woke up with a dry cough and headache. I had no fever though. I repeatedly Googled Covid-19 symptoms and self-diagnosed my condition as a regular cough. But I quarantined myself just the same and started self-medicating.

The next morning, I had shortness of breath. I brushed it off as a psychosomatic symptom triggered by the Covid-19 hysteria and watching too many zombie movies. Later that day, I started experiencing chest congestion and sinusitis, both are my regular annual visitors.

But then I had to wonder: have I been hit? My husband is a pilot who flies the Hawaii and Manila routes, but he showed no symptoms. He hasn't flown for weeks since the routes he was flying have been suspended.

Still, I couldn't discount the possibility. After all, the virus transmission on Guam has been accelerating and at this point, anyone-- and every corner for than matter--is a suspect source of infection. The coronavirus is irreverent; it discriminates no one.

I still had no fever, so I didn’t feel the need to seek urgent care. I continued self-medicating with Nyquil, brewed ginger, honey, lemon, orange juice and lots of water.

I was starting to feel better and ready to get back to work. I called Dr Akimoto for a phone interview.

“You sound tired,” he said.

“I’m sick but I am recovering,” I said in my nasal voice.

Dr. Akimoto, who happens to be my personal physician, wasn’t convinced I was OK and wanted to know more about my condition. So what was intended to be a press call instantly became a telemedical examination. I needed to be tested, he said, instructing me to come to the American Medical Clinic’s testing site.

I came as soon as I could. I was instructed to park in the back of the clinic, where I had the "drive-thru" test. I stayed in the car as Dr. Akimoto, garbed in full protective gear, took my samples. The nostril-swabbing may be inconvenient, but over all, the experience was uneventful--in a good way. We are lucky to have a better testing system that yields faster results compared to other locations. I am glad to have received a clean bill of health.

As of this time, our number is hitting close to 100 and every one is likely to become part of statistics.

“China bought the West time. The West squandered it,” reads the self-explanatory title of an opinion piece written by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ian Johnson published by The New York Times.

The West ignored the memo. While China was enforcing social distancing, checking temperatures at airports, offering free medical care and arresting anyone suspected of being infected, so many countries nonchalantly watched what was unfolding in China for weeks “as though it was none of their concern,” Johnson wrote. “Some governments have dithered for lack of political will. Some seem to fall prey, still, to a perception of China as the eternal ‘other,’ whose experience couldn’t possibly be relevant to us, much less provide any lessons — other than in what not to do.”

Guam is a microcosm of global failure in leadership and collective complacence. Like the rest of the world, we thought we were invincible. We dismissed the epidemic in China as a dystopian fantasy, until the coronavirus began hopping borders.

Even in the early stages of the epidemic, our local government and the business community saw Covid-19 merely as an inconvenience to tourism; they overlooked its looming threat to public health. Oddly, the medical community was left out of the planning process and preparations — if any. Earlier discussions focused on what Guam would do under different scenarios, which were painted based on the number of flight and booking cancellations, the number of people who would lose their jobs and the amount of revenue losses.

While CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres was asking FAA for an authority to ban incoming flights from countries with Covid-19 epidemic, Guam leaders were asking the feds for money. While other neighboring islands in the Pacific region began closing their borders, our own governor was inviting more travelers to come to Guam. “We’re ready for business,” she said in her state of the island address.

Then the unwanted traveler snuck into Guam.

This seems like a lifetime ago. The situation has since evolved, and still does as fast as the virus spreads. Guam’s transmission rate is 33 percent, which Governor Leon Guerrero said would have been 200 percent had we not kept 6 feet away from each other. According to the medical advisory council, "Early interventions by GovGuam, the medical community, and our society as a whole, have successfully thwarted said initial threat."

We have come to this: measuring our success against our failure, and worse, lying to ourselves as we make do with our government's ad hoc solutions.

At any rate, the public health emergency declaration— which mandates social distancing that gets us locked behind our doors— may have come a bit too late, but it's better than never. It's on us now.

However, it may not be enough. “I think that it is time to go beyond the ‘stay at home’ order to a ‘shelter in place’ order, as is being done in so many other places,” said Joe Bradley, chief economist and vice president of the Bank of Guam. “I learned today that some places have even started arresting people who violate that kind of order. From my perspective, the ‘stay at home’ order seems more like a suggestion than a directive, and putting a few more teeth in it would probably help a lot. this is, after all, a state of emergency, meant to be taken seriously.”

In this war against this invisible enemy, we are all the frontliners now. We can still save the time we haven't squandered before it's way too late. Shelter in place. Flatten the curve.

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