March 16, 2020

Coronavirus and Weddings

These are the strangest of strange days. How can we speak of anything other than the COVID-19 coronavirus – apocalyptic dystopian stories set in the future have become the stories of today. I can’t find a way to present images of weddings, people, art, music, or just about anything while somehow acknowledging this isn’t happening, it’s just not possible.

I’m not actually particularly scared of getting sick. I’m not scared for Kristen, nor Vega either. This is because firstly, we’re otherwise healthy and fatalities in our age group are rare and secondly, it affects children at a significantly lower rate and severity than experienced by adults. But the thing is, I’m incredibly scared of it on behalf of other people, those who are not young and/or those who are not healthy. They are the vulnerable ones for whom we must collectively band together and support and protect. There are some folks out there who seem to think we are being overly dramatic because this condition is only a little worse than the regular seasonal flu or because it “only” kills 1% of those who contract it but it is not that simple. Let’s break it down.

The exact mortality rate of the seasonal influenza can be challenging to measure but it is estimated to be somewhere in the range of 0.1% – an average of around 3500 dying people every year in Australia. But scientists have studied the flu for many years now, it is reasonably well understood and a vaccine is available with recommendations for this vaccine be administered to the very young, the elderly and those in at-risk groups. So despite its much more pervasive nature within the populace, we have tools available to us to mitigate its potentially much more deadly effects.

This current coronavirus, COVID-19, is however a completely different beast. There are so many unknowns that the data is inconsistent and different depending on not only source but when that source published the data. New information is being found out each day but ultimately, it is nearly universally accepted within the medical and public health world that it is a significantly more serious issue than the regular flu. So we know that it can stay alive on surfaces for up to 72 hours and once transmitted, the incubation time is thought to be around 5 days before symptoms present and new research from the last few days is indicating that carriers may be contagious before they display symptoms. It is also thought that each carrier of the virus will infect 2 to 3 people meaning the effect can expand exponentially though a population. At present, there is also no vaccine or treatment.

So what does all of this mean? Well to me, I think it’s highly likely that many of us will be infected. Some models predict 1 out of 4 Australians will contract the virus and of those, about 20% may need hospitalisation for respiratory distress. The mortality rate of COVID19 is still not precisely known however it is thought to be somewhere in the range of 1-3%. This means, of the 6 million or so infections in Australia predicted by this model, 14% (840 000) will need a hospital bed and 5% (300 000) will need Intensive Care. At present, Australia has a grand total of 2000 ICU beds with respirators but in peak demand, this can be upped to 4000.

So despite significant medical intervention and support, it is estimated that approximately 60000 – 180000 people could die and a worse case scenario of 50% of the population being infected, we may expect up to 400000 deaths. That in my mind is absolutely astounding and I’d assume that not a single person in this nation would be left unscarred by the loss of a friend, colleague or family member.

The only treatment we have for this disastrous potential eventuality is to prevent the spread of the virus. We need to give it a wide berth and minimise the chance of transmitting it to someone else and them onto someone else and them onto someone else. The exponential growth of the virus can be seen in places that didn’t take this threat seriously – places like Italy, Iran and now the USA. Countries that enforced self-isolation and took the dramatic step of complete lock down appear to have the spread of the disease under much more control, they’ve flattened the curve as the saying goes (with reference the the shape of the exponential growth curve for the number of infections with respect to time).

So why am I writing this? Well it’s because I care about my community and I care about us as a society. I want us to get through this together and I want the most vulnerable of us to have a fighting chance. If all of us relatively healthy people are in hospital taking up the limited resources available, what chance do the elderly, the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities have? Italy is facing a situation where healthcare professionals are having to choose which patients they can help and which they must leave to die – this is a truly tragic outcome that I don’t want to see in Australia.

Ultimately, what this means is that I truly encourage each and every one of you to reconsider the need to have any sort of public gathering. If it is in any way possible, please think about whether you can reschedule it. I accept that this may not be feasible for everyone but these are exceptional circumstances which we have never encountered before in our Western experience in modern times. We must do something different and unconventional and we must be agile and fleet-footed to adapt with the new incoming best practice information. We must give our frontline healthcare professionals and their supporting staff the absolute best chance possible to help those who are most in need.

So as photography professionals, what can we do? Well I think it all starts with a very simple thing – kindness. It requires acceptance this is an exceptional experience which none of us have ever gone through, something none of us really know how to navigate. Kristen wrote something the other day about us temporarily moving Squishy Minnie, our kids and young adult bookshop, over to online sales only and it really stuck with me – we must all figure out what works best for us and then encourage others to do the best they can too.

So basically all I can do right now as a professional photographer is to promise to try my utmost to honour my agreements to existing wedding booking if they are to be rescheduled. I’ll honour the deposits and will simply move the booking date. I am going to be as flexible as I possibly can be and I truly want to encourage all other photographers, venues, florists, musicians, and anyone else involved to do the same if it is possible for you to do so. I know it is much easier said than done because we all live in such financially challenging times whereby we live so close to the edge – but I hope we can all commit do what we can. And if it is possible, encourage others to self isolate and practice social distancing. You’re not being paranoid, you’re joining a movement to minimise the chances of tens or even hundreds of thousands of your fellow Australians from getting sick or dying. It is a powerful moment in our history, one which ironically will be seen as an overreaction if it achieves its goal – but that’s fine by me.

We can create a movement of kindness, one which can foster kindness unto it – taking this idea of doing as much as we can for each other will be just the starting point for what we will need to do as a society to get through this so let us lean on each other (not literally because you know, coronavirus) and prop each other up. There is no harm to us in doing too much, but there is definitely a much sadder story to write if we do too little.

Yours in solidarity and good health,