I’m pretty sure we are herding cats. No, I don’t mean the American public, though, to be honest, it could definitely apply right now. What I’m talking about is the medical community at large. The pandemic exposed major gaps in the American healthcare system. Not only were we unprepared for a pandemic, we weren’t prepared for which captain is supposed to take the helm. While acclaimed NIAID Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been the closest thing to this unifying voice we have, we still need more direction. As more lawmakers and community leaders get involved in critical plans to re-open the economy, who should we, as physicians and other healthcare providers, listen to in this storm? How can we best guide our patients, both individually and collectively?
For the most objective approach, we need to follow the data. The problem is, this data can vary from community to community. And what do we do about the roaming community, that is, how do we deal with travel? Even though there are fewer people flying, there are still people flying. Only some passengers are wearing personal protective equipment on the flights. What about when they make it to their destinations? What precautions are they taking then? What precautions are there for automobile travel?
We continue to lack a unified voice suggesting how social distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment should look across state lines, both on and above the ground. While the governors of each state have final say on how their state phases out social distancing and re-opens their economies, there is a lack of oversight for travelers. This virus may just hitchhike around for much longer than anyone would like. Given these challenges, how is a provider supposed to advise their patients with regard to returning to work, travel, visiting family, and the like? What about patients with underlying health conditions that are ignoring social distancing guidelines. Does this constitute self-harm? The answer is, we don’t know. It’s still a case by case basis, and until we have better systems in place, this ship will continue to be adrift.
K. Maravet Baig-Ward is a psychiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @drmaravet.
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