Tom Jefferson: Covid-19—supermarket wisdom

The woman is speaking to me through a mask. Her voice is muffled. I know her by sight. I think her name is Anna and she is a nurse at the local hospital. 

We are standing apart from each other in a supermarket queue. The queue is interesting. I gaze at the variety of outlandish protection gear everyone is wearing. One guy even has his swimming goggles on.

Another guy is wearing a military respirator. Fancy turning up in a bank with that on, just two months ago. The police would have had a field day, but now no one notices it. 

Anna is getting animated. She is telling me about failures in the supply of masks and other barriers to frontline staff. I think she is asking: “we were supposed to be prepared, we get lectured every year on the forthcoming pandemic, so where are the gloves, masks and gowns?”

Another question, but I have no answer. We have spent a lot of money on drugs, vaccines and setting up whole careers in influenza preparedness, but if you want a mask, you can use your scarf. It’s too warm for scarves now. 

Anna starts waving her hands in the air: “What about ventilators, we are getting overspill patients from the North and we have barely enough ventilators.”

Other stuff I glean from her I will not repeat, but it all adds to my uneasiness and feeling of detachment from reality.

Inside the empty supermarket—only a few people at a time are allowed in to avoid overcrowding—the toilet paper is sold out. 

That is odd. It would suggest an oro-fecal transmission of covid, not respiratory. We obviously got Coronaviridae habits wrong. 

My old sinusitis has come back, which does not help my mood. Should I report myself as a possible case of covid-19 or put myself on antibiotics? 

Perhaps I should ask Anna, but she has gone off with the last of the toilet paper. 

Tom Jefferson is an an epidemiologist and Cochrane researcher, based in Rome, Italy. 

Competing interests: Please see full statement here.