COVID-19 is not a cause for panic. It is cause for action.

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As many of my Facebook friends know, I have posted a great many updates about COVID-19, both public health recommendations and news updates, but this is my personal plea.  As a physician with a public health degree, looking at the data, looking at what’s happening in other countries, and looking at how things are progressing in the United States, it is clear to me that if we don’t take dramatic action and fast, things are going to get very very bad.

Please take action: We will not have enough ventilators to go around if spread does not dramatically slow in the U.S. and in our community.  Not next week or the week after, but now.  This is not cause for panic; it is cause for action.  It means we need everyone to practice social distancing as much as possible now to avoid ICU rationing like what they have to do in Italy.  One day difference won’t make a huge impact on businesses or on your social life, but it can make a huge difference in terms of lives saved during an epidemic.

Please, for the good of everyone, don’t get together with friends who don’t live with you.  Don’t go out to the bar or go out to eat.  Minimize grocery runs.  Try to stay 6 feet away from anyone you’re not living with or working with on a daily basis.  Work from home if you can.  Be sure you’re disinfecting anything that arrives (including takeout containers) since the virus can live on surfaces for up to 3 days.

This is a much bigger public health concern than many realize.  This is not the flu or a cold.  Most people will have mild symptoms, but a large number also have to be hospitalized, and many will require a ventilator.

Speaking with colleagues on the front lines, several ICUs in the U.S. are already full, and others are expected to be in the next few days.  We currently have fewer cases in North Carolina than they do in Seattle, Boston, New York but it spreads incredibly fast, and social distancing takes a week or two to slow things down — so we need to do aggressive social distancing at least a couple of weeks before we have a lot of cases.  Also, we also do not currently have enough tests in this country, though everything possible is being done to fix this at this point, and I’m optimistic that will change soon. That means that we don’t have a great way to know who has it and who doesn’t, and the number of people who have it is significantly higher than the numbers being reported.

A single person in South Korea who felt OK infected 1,200 people.  Most of the young and healthy, including children, will do OK with this but they will spread it to older people or immunosuppressed people without realizing it, and too many of those will need a hospital and ICU care, and some will die.

Local businesses, I know this is a very trying time for you, but please do your best to minimize exposure for our community, such as curbside service and limiting the number of people to keep adequate spacing.  Please consider offering “elderly only” times, such as an hour first thing in the morning when everything is freshly wiped down and cleaned to reduce the risk of transmission to our most at-risk residents.

See the below graph on deaths from the 1918 flu to see how critical social distancing is.

The same thing has been seen in Italy.  We can do this, but we need all hands on deck. I need you to help protect my dad who is going to be working in the emergency department through all of this doing his best to take care of everyone.  I need you to help protect grandparents who are in the high-risk group because of their age and my husband because even though he is in his 30s, he could still end up on a ventilator or even die from this.  And you need me and our other neighbors to protect you and your loved ones.

I know people are scared about what is going to happen and how they will put food on the table.  We will have to work together as a community, as a nation, to figure out how to take care of everyone in the coming weeks and months.  We can do that, and we will.  But we can’t bring back your loved ones if they die. So I plead with you to take the needed action now, and we will work together to figure out the rest.

Virginia Moye is a dermatologist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com, Washington Post

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