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Harriet Berkal: Pondering a Pandemic...The Nasal Swab Was a Piece of Cake

by Harriet Berkal, April 24,2020

If someone would have told me in December 2019, just 4 months ago, that I’d be wearing a mask in front of a bank teller to retrieve funds, I’d have looked at them and wondered if they were on something or needed medication. DO I LOOK LIKE A BANK ROBBER? But alas, that is now our new normal and in fact, the majority of us appear to be on a heist of some sort. Wonder if this affects criminal investigations – no fingerprints these days, poor and limited visual ID? Might Apple have to alter their facial recognition to accommodate a mask? I digress.

Covid 19 hit really close to home in our house. I was forced to take my husband into the Grace emergency for a kidney stone on March 20th. Larry was treated and released. About 4 days later or so, a public health nurse contacted us to say that a health care provider who tested positive, had been in direct contact with my husband and therefore we had to go to the Victoria Hospital Urgent Care where they were waiting to test us both. I was impressed with the follow up.

The public health nurse called us daily until our results came in to have us report our temperatures. Covid hadn’t really touched my soul until that nasal swab occurred and the real quarantine set in where we were not even allowed to go for a short walk. I received notification of being negative after 5 days or so. Poor Larry had the misfortune to repeat his test as the doctor neglected to screw on the cap on his vial properly – so back to the hospital he went – each time exposing himself even further. Then we had to self-isolate from one another within the same house until he was negative.

With the pandemic, the hustle and bustle of everyday life comes to a HALT! We’ve awakened to a nightmare, battling an invisible enemy. The news is surreal, watching as refrigeration trucks are used to store dead bodies, the victims of COVID 19. Some places can barely keep up with the death toll. The rest of us play our role, social isolating and distancing, to help flatten the curve, in the hopes of returning to society before this pandemic began.

Which of us has ever had to live through a horrific reality of this magnitude? It does force one to rethink various areas of our lives and to make observations about its impact on us as humans. Much of the fallout is obvious, while other occurrences are revealed to us.


Locked up with family, spouses, children, etc., in a household can create an increase in tension. One or more adults may be working from home now. The normal rhythm of life has been disturbed. If you are lucky enough to still hold a job, that is very fortunate. If you have been laid off or own a small business and your future is now in jeopardy, then worry sets in – can you weather the storm or not? I would not be surprised if the divorce rate increases as a result of this enforcement. Without question, more people are seeking counselling, if not only ICU nurses suffering from PTSD.

Does anyone foresee another baby boom in around 10-12 months from now, as couples are bound together are seeking recreational activities or making up after fights brought on by too much confinement? As a baby boomer myself, I think this is quite predictable.

What are the implications for divorced and/or separated couples who share custody of children now, who typically go back and forth between households? How do they limit the potential transference of the virus or are they restricted and have to stay with only one parent until restraints are lifted? Does this involve lawyers and courts?

The scope of this lethal virus is so broad that most of us are focusing on simply not catching it. Has anyone considered what position abused women find themselves in during a lock down? They lose the safety gap they have during the day or night if their partner is now home all the time. They become sitting ducks in this scenario. Has the rate of spousal abuse gone up since the pandemic started? It has, according to a CTV survey of domestic violence. A victim conveys how her partner who was a truck driver lost his job and with self-isolation, the beatings were more frequent. I saw one Facebook offering to abused women, to notify the issuer with a message. If you responded to her talking about your black cat – that was a signal for the recipient to call the police. It hadn’t even occurred to me that, yes, we are all prisoners in our own homes now, but for some that equated to a real increased danger of survival.

Just today, I received a plea from petitioning the government to utilize so many of the empty hotel rooms as shelter for women as a safe haven. Aren’t the rest of us so very privileged to have a roof over our heads in a safe dwelling?


Many people have reached out to friends and relatives with whom they have not spoken to for a while, in an effort to mend fences. Why? Surely a pandemic might make an existing dispute look trivial now in comparison to a global slaughter. Why not try and see if you can clear the air? Is forgiveness on the rise, if even for the moment? 


As many investors may have wanted to upchuck their lunches as markets plummeted to record lows, some stocks are gaining momentum from this tragedy. Lysol (RBGLY) recently had to pay up to $1.4b to end a U.S. federal investigation into Indivior, a division it used to own. But the Lysol maker Reckitt Benckiser stock still climbed despite this payout. And that was in July of 2019. Well would you like to know how Lysol is doing after this pandemic hit in March 2020, with everyone, even those, without OCD, who are now wiping everything down and I mean everything.

Well this highly contagious virus, which is not selective in its victims, makes one question their own mortality. What if I get it and suddenly die? Maybe I need to get a healthcare directive in order in case something bad happens to me? Do a need a DNR or should I trust they will have a ventilator for me (but they might have run out of the sedating meds to intubate). Is an Estate lawyer necessary to get my affairs in order?


And speaking of affairs – how does one maintain a clandestine relationship when you can no longer meet up  at a  scheduled public gathering leading to a clandestine rendevous? Everything has gone virtual.

Dating itself is not without its own unique challenges. How does one date during a pandemic with social distancing? Is time running out if your biological clock is ticking and you are a female wishing to find that special one and start a family?


You may have aging parents in care facilities you frequented often, to check on your loved one’s welfare. But now, you can’t even go in to see them. And the likelihood of an elderly parent having a smart phone to face time with, is very low.

Envision your spouse works in an ICU unit at a hospital treating COVID patients. They are on the front line and putting their life at risk and perhaps yours, if they contract it and pass it along to you. The same holds true for firefighters, police and other first responders. A carrier of COVID can be asymptomatic for weeks. There is no way of knowing who is walking around with it or not. We are all at the mercy of this virus. There is an increase in worry and panic that did not otherwise exist.

If you have a loved one who gets COVID and is in ICU on a ventilator and is dying, you never get to be there in person for them as they pass. We have all heard the stories about nurses using their own smart phones to allow the family to say goodbye to a family member. How tragic is this? There was a story of a couple who had been married for decades both infected, who died within minutes of each other. The normal grieving process has been interrupted and greatly altered. Touching a loved one and kissing them goodbye is a right of passage in loss. Where is the closure. In Israel they have a glass room where a family member can view the body. But it doesn’t only affect the dying. There was a feature of a pregnant woman who had pneumonia like symptoms and tested positive for COVID who had an induced labour and gave birth to a baby with COVID. The two were separated. So, the natural interactions and dynamics we take for granted, have been hugely unsettled.

In the event that a Jewish person falls prey to the virus, their body would arrive in a body bag that never gets opened. Tahara the ritual of washing the body and dressing it in a sheath does not occur. I was informed by Rena Boroditsky, who operates the Chesed Shel Emes, that they would say the regular prayers if they had a Covid death, but simply lay the sheath over the body bag. They must keep the risks low and ensure safety for those volunteers who deal with the deceased.

Worldwide, the treatment of the dead has been altered. Some cultures are cremating the bodies for fear of diseases spread. No one is seeing their loved one again. There has been a loss of dignity as not everything is known about this deadly force. So, our goodbyes have been greatly altered.


I find it hard to process that thousands are dying, and we know that social distancing is key, yet certain religious groups disregard these warnings and gather. This was evident in Louisiana, where an evangelical minister encouraged 1800 congregants to gather only to fall prey to the virus in record numbers afterwards. The ultra orthodox in Israel are said to have not been practicing social distancing enough. (As of April 12, it was reported that the predominantly ultra-orthodox city of Bnei Brak had the highest concentration of virus cases.)You might want to put your faith in a vaccine before G-d. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray, but this culprit isn’t selective in its victims.

Weddings – some have gone virtual, grads will likely be cancelled, along with the Olympics and the CFA exam- delayed until December.

Passover was improvised on the computer bringing families together. Community events have been changed and non-essential surgeries and certain medical procedures are not being conducted.

Winter tires have to come off soon and so how many of us will be able to get that done?

The symphony concerts are all cancelled for now, including the ballet, dance festivals and trade shows which are the bread and butter for thousands.


There has been much talk about wet markets and the transfer of a virus from bats to the human – in other words it jumps hosts. But lately there have been many conspiracy theories about a potential leak of a synthetic virus from an infectious disease lab in Wuhan. Further investigation is required, but it is a fact that a vaccine will yield billions of dollars for some pharmaceutical company out there.


We will survive this pandemic without a doubt. It may take longer than many of us wish but there has to be a silver lining to this horrific era in our human existence.

I would hope that we can be kinder to one another. Let’s cherish the time we have left with one another as this stole lives by the thousands of many who assumed they had so much more time with their families. Small things like going out for dinner with friends will occur again but in the back of our minds we may be more cautious about handshakes and sharing dessert. Will it linger in our minds for a while or will life resume to normal? I think not. And maybe that’s a good thing.

The relationship we have with mother earth has had a major wake up call. I hear the water in Venice canals are cleaner and filled with fish. The pollution in many areas is significantly lower.

We are all in this together and I fear that the lessons of COVID may soon be forgotten after restrictions have been lifted and we believe things are all back to normal. In fact, at the time of writing this column, some Florida beaches were business as usual, as if this was all a hoax. The toll on the economy has been great but the risks are too high. We are learning to adapt and do with less at times but perhaps we are more grateful for things we took for granted.

One thing I know for certain is that I am so glad my beloved parents are gone and have not witnessed this horrible plague. I am certain many of you feel the same way. Those with elderly parents still alive and in nursing homes where they cannot visit them, it must be a terrible hardship to endure.

Never would I have dreamed to have experienced such horrors. Thank you to the entire medical community and all those who go to work daily for essential services to allow the rest us to get our medicines and groceries.

Don’t expect the Bridge Drive In to be open anytime soon. Instead bridge the cavity between the reality that a pandemic is genuine, and that the virus can strike any of us. We are not immune. Be safe and allow the infectious disease specialists to learn more about this enemy we face. When we are equipped with more data, we should take heed of the instructions that, science will direct us to safety.

Self isolation and social distancing have helped to flatten the curve. The world is round, and we shall pray to come full circle to a better existence.

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