Guest editorial: Let’s do our part during the pandemic. Thousands of lives depend on it.
I first heard about COVID-19 from a friend with ties to the government back in January. His message to me was clear and ahead of its time: “Pay attention to coronavirus. Do not travel unless you have to. This is going to turn into a big deal.”
Having worked in a prior life as a consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), I am acutely aware of pathways of viruses and deadly pathogens that lead to pandemics. However, as a healthy middle-aged man, I know the risk to me is minimal and I largely ignored the warning. Three weeks ago, I was in San Francisco and two weeks ago I found myself in New York City and Boston … all locations where the virus is widespread today.
I rationalized my decisions with the same arguments I hear daily: total number of deaths is less than influenza … the symptoms are mild unless you are immunocompromised … the mortality rate is low…
I write this to share what I’ve learned: My individual mortality is not the right metric. The measure should be around the health of the immunocompromised, elderly and medical professionals who are risking their lives. The measure should be virus transmission rates and my contribution to it. It is unconscionable that I played Russian Roulette with my elderly neighbor’s life because I wanted to attend a nonprofit gala in New York City.
I write this to openly own my mistake. I am not judging any decisions that others make but rather creating what I hope to be a call to action. We have an opportunity to pull together as humans and put one another first.
Now that we have our first case of community spread COVID-19 in Summit County, from a server at an establishment in the middle of Main Street, my hope is that we can all collectively come together to slow the virus’s spread in the community we love so much. To be clear, I was ignorant to the science and risked being complicit in the disease’s spread by my cavalier approach to non-essential travel. And given my background, I should have known better.
According to the World Health Organization, the “incubation period” (or the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease) for COVID-19 ranges from one to 14 days, most commonly around five days. That means that for up to 14 days after catching the virus, we could be unknowingly spreading it.
Further, the transmission of the disease seems to be spreading easily with cases doubling every five days. Consider the Novel Coronavirus Infection Maps specifically for Italy, France and the U.S. created by Humanistic GIS Lab at the University of Washington.
Based on the science and very simple assumptions regarding transmission: Every infection we prevent today has the ability to save 2,600-plus lives in three months. Further, it can prevent at least 10 times as many hospitalizations. The exact numbers should not matter; you can use any transmission and mortality rates you choose. … I would just posit that regardless of the probability or assumptions, the inadvertent death of any of our neighbors is an unacceptable outcome that we share responsibility to avoid.
The best way to avoid transmission and slow the coronavirus is social distancing. It is why schools are moving to virtual lesson plans and why businesses around the world are having people work from home. For those of us who are able, we have a moral and civic duty to do our part.
As outlined by primary care physician and public health leader Dr. Asaf Bitton, “Our health system will not be able to cope with the projected numbers of people who will need acute care should we not muster the fortitude and will to socially distance each other starting now. On a regular day, we have about 45,000 staffed ICU beds nationally, which can be ramped up in a crisis to about 95,000. Even moderate projections suggest that if current infectious trends hold, our capacity (locally and nationally) may be overwhelmed as early as mid-late April. Thus, the only strategies that can get us off this concerning trajectory are those that enable us to work together as a community to maintain public health by staying apart.”
The risks of ignoring the science, calls to action and warnings is best articulated by a doctor in Europe who published an opinion piece in Newsweek speaking to our responsibility and the overrun health system: “Most of my childhood friends are now doctors working in north Italy. In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua, they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don’t have enough beds. In the hallway, meanwhile, there are another 15 people waiting who are already hardly breathing and need oxygen.”
Make no mistake we are also dealing with a major social justice issue and our community is responding. Fellow neighbors on Nextdoor such as Michael Mezzatesta in Park Meadows and Will Ferris in Pinebrook are offering to pick up groceries for the elderly and immuno-vulnerable. The Park City Community Foundation and other organizations are offering unrestricted resources to support groups who are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and its economic consequences. Please consider our single parent neighbors or those with dual-working parents. Let’s do our part on social distancing so those who literally cannot and our altruistic caregivers are not at greater risk.
Dr. Bitton outlines his suggestions in a letter recently published that can be summarized as follows: Please stay home if you can. Go outside but generally stay away from non-family members. Do critical things at off hours. If you have been near someone with the coronavirus or have symptoms, please self-quarantine. Of course, if there is an emergency, call 911.
Hard choices made today can help us avoid a much larger crisis later. This is a global health emergency. This is not spring break. The decisions each of us makes has the opportunity to save a neighbor you have yet to meet.
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