Corona Chronicles 2: A Danish Perspective
By Danielle Agnello
Executive Director, GHMe
As a public health professional, this pandemic is both academically thrilling and emotionally devastating. I have read about the black plague and the 1918 influenza pandemic, but I never thought I would live through a pandemic of such magnitude. Furthermore, living in a country as an expat during this kind of crisis is stressful for many reasons; being away from my family and loved ones and unable to travel to see them is very difficult, as well as navigating the local health system in a way I have not needed to do so before is tedious.
Image reference: https://tinyurl.com/yc84y7ck
A Swift and Coordinated Response
However, with all those challenges, I would say that I am reinforced in my reasons for living and potentially starting a family in Denmark. The Danish’s response to COVID-19 was well-executed and applaudable. During the lockdown, and our recent lockdown-easing measures, the Danish community remains positive and supportive of each other. The country is additionally well equipped, due to their cross-cutting and accessible health care system and digital health solutions. Though this is not to say that there are not pockets of vulnerable populations. However, I continue to see incredible examples of community actions working to reach those that are unable to access care, unaware of where to get care, or economically impacted by this crisis.
An example of this kind of community action is QueerCare, which is a Facebook group by and for the LGTBTQIA+ community of Copenhagen to get or give support, so people can avoid going outside if they're quarantined, immunocompromised, asthmatic, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable to COVID-19. I was grateful to be invited into the group to help provide public health advice regarding Infection Prevention and Control measures when individuals were potentially in close contact during the height of the outbreak.
Image reference: https://tinyurl.com/y7c267ff
The Mask Conundrum
Though Denmark has been a fine example of an integrated and swift COVID-19 response, I still feel concerned about going outside. I live directly in the middle of the city, near all of the shops and restaurants, so if I go outside my door, I am confronted with many individuals, and we are often forced to walk near each other due to the narrow cobblestone streets. Though I acknowledge the wonderful actions, recommendations, measures and regulations put in place by the Danish health authority, Sundhedsstyrelsen, (with advice from the Statens Serum Institut), I am wary that the general population is not aware that even though Denmark is reopening, it does not mean the pandemic is over. For instance, Sundhedsstyrelsen recommends the public to still use physical/social distancing measures when engaging in social activities (https://www.sst.dk/da/corona-eng), however, I don’t see people practicing these public health recommendations when I step outside my door.
"I am wary that the general population is not aware that even though Denmark is reopening, it does not mean the pandemic is over."
For these reasons, I strongly feel the need to wear a mask, since I cannot adhere to physical distancing measures due to the nature of those around me, especially when entering any kind of store. However, I find myself standing out and alone, not seeing at least one other person wearing a mask in Copenhagen, not even those working in the service industry (e.g. waitstaff, clerks, receptionists, etc.). Considering that Denmark is getting at least 41+ new cases a day, it’s clear that there are people in the community, transmitting COVID-19, so we need to be cautious and find ways to stop community transmission altogether. The United States Centers for Disease Control recommends the use of a cloth mask when an individual is in a situation where they are unable to adhere to recommended social distancing measures. Wearing a mask is a very important preventive measure, and as the global supply of personal protective equipment for medical professionals is improving, it is strongly recommended that individuals use a cloth or medical mask when engaging or in close social interactions in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, etc.), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Even though Denmark (Sundhedsstyrelsen) does not currently recommend the use of masks, I urge the Danish authorities to reconsider putting in place such an important recommendation. Encouraging the use of masks when social distancing is not possible will not only remind individuals that the pandemic is not over, it can also have other benefits. For instance, it can discourage individuals from touching their face, and reduce stigma for those that choose to wear a mask because they themselves were sick, are more vulnerable to COVID-19, or suspect that they may be sick since they were exposed to someone who had COVID19.
Considering the current reproduction rate of cases in Denmark, Staten Serum Institut cautions that new analysis may lead Denmark’s politicians to exercise more caution as they decide which parts of Denmark’s lockdown to lift next, as the reproduction rate is EXTREMELY close to increasing above 1% again, after only dropping below 1% on 31 March 2020. This means the curve may likely move upwards once again.
Image reference: https://tinyurl.com/ydy9bou8
I do feel safe and proud to be in Denmark during this crisis, but I still feel a strong need to isolate myself in my apartment and avoid socializing with my friends, against my own desires, because I do not see others in Copenhagen adhering to the very vital infection prevention and control measures. Additionally, it will become increasingly difficult to encourage the public to adhere to social/physical distancing recommendations as the weather gets nicer and the summer holiday begins. Considering the current situation in Denmark, I sincerely hope that the Danish public health authorities and government redouble their efforts to increase the health literacy of the population so everyone is aware of what needs to be done to help us move towards a better tomorrow, because "the choice between public health and restarting the economy is a false dichotomy" (Dr. Craig Spencer, USA).
Thank you to Danielle for your valuable perspective and for promoting a healthy approach during the crisis.
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