Beyond the virus

Yesterday, we highlighted some of the potential psychological impacts of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and of mandated restrictions designed to prevent a spike in cases, which could overwhelm our country’s health care system.

With so many moving parts to the pandemic’s response worldwide, it can be easy to underestimate pressing societal problems, which existed prior to our current state of lockdown, that could now encounter a perfect storm of conditions, in which to mushroom into unintended outcomes.

Alcoholism is an underrated, though pervasive, social ill in our country.

While the ordered closure of liquor stores was little more than an unhappy circumstance for most drinkers, a sudden withdrawal for those who are alcoholics could prove dangerous for the addict and for those he or she lives with.

If alcohol is withdrawn suddenly, the brain is like “an accelerated vehicle that has lost its brakes”, according to Harvard Health, with the most dangerous form of alcohol withdrawal — delirium tremens — causing potentially dramatic or unpredictable heart rate and blood pressure changes that can result in heart attack, stroke or death.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink, and symptoms will typically peak within the first 24 to 48 hours upon cessation.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically improve within five days, though a small number of patients may have prolonged symptoms, lasting weeks.

Attorney General Carl Bethel has advised that liquor stores will remain closed through the country’s curfew period, which he said could be extended for another 30 days.

Given the potentially adverse physical and mental effects of alcohol withdrawal in addicts throughout the country, public health officials should include in their communiqués information on the signs, symptoms and recommended courses of action for sufferers, so as to raise awareness and let sufferers know that medical help should be sought.

Another well-known feature of both alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal is aggression, which coincides, generally, with the alarm being raised by activists about an increased risk of domestic violence now that couples are ordered confined to their homes.

When the home is not a safe place, being forced to remain there, being ordered not to go to another person’s home, or being ordered not to have others come to your home, can have devastating effects.

Social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it can, invariably, put vulnerable segments of our population that much more at risk.

Police, social services and public health officials should address the public on this critical issue for women and children — the population groups most at risk for domestic violence — so that victims know what their options are for safe havens and protection under a 24-hour shelter order in place.

Vulnerabilities for the poor, elderly and handicapped, meantime, could also become exacerbated under current restrictions.

When public bus transportation was ordered to cease, it put scores of Bahamians and residents, who rely on this essential service, in a disadvantageous position, notwithstanding the understandable rationale for the move.

Speaking to reporters in defense of the order, Transport Minister Renward Wells said, “We have family members and those who would’ve taken the public transportation system normally, obviously, would be able to get assistance from family members and others who would be able to drive them to the requisite places that they would need to go.”

Unfortunately, Wells’ assumption about the “obvious” options of alternative transportation for public transit users does not gel with reality.

The reality is that for various reasons, including non-existent or dysfunctional family ties, many do not have easy access to safe and alternative means of transport to and from work and for their essential needs.

As such, those of lesser means and resources were immediately relegated to the back of the line in this key aspect of survival during the country’s emergency order period.

Beyond the virus, what must happen now more than ever before is, we must extend hands and heart to ensure that the vulnerable do not fall through the cracks during this pandemic response.

Life must and will go on after the COVID-19 pandemic, and we must not close our eyes and proverbial doors to the everyday social challenges that have not and cannot take a back seat to a pandemic.

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