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Our Brainless Brush with Covid-19

May 24th, 2020 · No Comments · coronavirus, France, Quarantine, Wine

At the time, we thought we were going to be fine. It was March 5, and the Covid-19 coronavirus was spreading in France, but it wasn’t where it was going to be in a few weeks. No reports of cases in the neighborhood of our little village.

So we did something Just Plain Stupid. We attended a catered dinner inside a local wine shop.

Looking back, we were very, very fortunate to get out of a small room, packed with 60-70 diners, most of them expat retirees, without contracting the virus.

As far as we know, no cases were traced back to the dinner we attended.

However … it was exactly the kind of event we have been warned about so, so many times.

Even then, we talked about it before going ahead. Bad news was coming out of the north of Italy, and Italy shares a border with France. But we had not heard of any cases on our side of said border, and friends of ours would be at the event, and “Indian” food sounded enticing. And, too, we had pre-paid.

Within a few days, we would hear of at least three cases of the virus apparently emerging from the same shop after a music event, a week before our dinner. Eventually, we heard of two more, in the area’s expat community, taking the total infections to at least five, two of which ended in death.

How lame were we?

We thought we were at least a few steps ahead of the coronavirus, when we made a reservation for the March 5 dinner.

By the time March 5 rolled around, Covid was getting the attention of the French.

An acquaintance in California, which at the time had not been hit hard by the virus, probably reflects the attitude we had, before the dinner event.

“The odd thing about Covid-19 is we don’t know anyone who contracted the virus,” he wrote. “We hear the numbers, but they seem a bit abstract.”

It was abstract for us, too, back on March 5. We discussed not going. We decided to go and be “careful” — whatever we thought that meant.

Epidemiologists have a word to describe particularly dangerous scenarios during a pandemic. They call them superspreaders, capable of producing a quick spike in cases from one social event.

We were walking into a potential superspreader. A crowded, noisy and hot room, with lots of hand-shaking, filled with people sitting six to a table who were bumping into each other and speaking loudly, to be heard — actions that often lead to the projection of tiny saliva droplets which can transport the virus to a new host.

At the time, we were not entirely clear on the dangers of people crowded into tight places. Like sports stadiums and rush-hour public transportation. It was not good, but was it as bad as The Washington Post story (linked above) suggested?

Yes. Read that story, and see how scientists explain how one infected person in a large group can speed along a virus, and especially Covid-19 due, in part, to the three-day lag between infection and symptoms. Some medical people suggest that by doing nothing beyond banning large gatherings Covid could be brought to a standstill.

That is now. This was then.

I was increasingly uncomfortable with that time and place, even though I did not hear any tell-tale coughs or sneezes. I saw only one person who clearly looked ill, chilled in a warm room even while wearing a heavy scarf. I gave him a wide berth, or as wide as I could in a crowded room.

Also, I was creeped out that everyone in the room would be handling the one set of utensils laid out for the diners.

We were some of the first people to leave.

Four days later we heard, through the local expat community, that four people who attended the music event had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Only then did we realize what sort of danger we could be in: Our event seemed highly similar to the one before it.

We decided to begin self-quarantining, ahead of the order from the French government for the nation to go into quarantine on March 16.

By then we already were counting down from 14, the number of days one brush with Covid can generate an attack on humans.

Instead of getting more comfortable, as our Covid clock ticked down, we became more concerned. We knew more about the dangers than we did on March 5, and we rued our decision to plunge into a big crowd in a tight space.

We will not do that again.

As the following weeks unfolded, we discovered there were two active cases from our town, one person in intensive care in Beziers, the other a kindly neighbor who had given rides to medical appointments to the former woman. The good neighbor eventually came down with the virus herself but fought it off, alone, while sequestered in her apartment. (She now looks good as new. The woman she gave rides to … also OK, though weakened.)

Eventually, we reached the outer limit of Covid’s ability to infect, going back to March 5. Meaning we were clear, for the moment.

We were lucky. We were blessed. We were allowed to survive (at least in this case), our own ridiculous decision-making.

We realized an opportunistic virus could bring us down, if we did not take good advice and act on it.

Lesson learned.


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