Practice social distancing so we can #flattenthecurve

Right now, we are all afraid. We’re all afraid of something called COVID-19.

Grocery store shelves are empty. People are fighting over toilet paper rolls. It’s beginning to look a little like Armageddon.

You’ve seen the photos, heard the stories, watched the news coverage. COVID-19 is real. It’s real, and the incredible infectivity of it is scary.

I’m in medicine. COVID-19 is one of the reasons I went into medicine. Not because of specifically, COVID-19, but because of something like COVID-19. I wanted to be on the frontlines, like the marines, except in medicine, fighting to help keep people safe from disease.

But, now that it’s here, it’s frightening.

It’s frightening for people like us in health care because we risk our lives to see you, to take care of you. We wash our hands, we wear gloves, we limit our contact with you by practicing telemedicine, but we’re still on the front lines of this battle. We’re working to keep you safe. Gowning up to swab your nose, answering your phone calls, emails, seeing you in the clinics, in the hospitals. Taking care of the sickest and critically ill in intensive care units.

Most of us don’t have the option of working from home, and if given a choice, we would still go to work, because that’s what we signed up for. That’s why we went into medicine.

We want you to understand, though, why we are advocating for social distancing. Social distancing does not only mean schools are closed; workplaces are allowing people to work from home, and restaurants are doing take out only. This is not a vacation, not free time off. Bars are crowded, yoga and gym studios active, stores packed with people. This is not social distancing. Social distancing is avoiding activities where you will be in contact with groups of people. So, instead of going to the gym, take a walk outside in your neighborhood. Video chat with friends. Spend time with your immediate family at home.

We aren’t conditioned to practice this social distancing, but in these times, it is a necessity. We believe that the most contagious period of time is 5-7 days prior to showing symptoms. So, you may have it, not know it, but be spreading it to other people.

While we don’t want you to panic, we want you to take things seriously. Some of you may be thinking the United States is okay. We don’t have many cases. While it is true we don’t have as many reported cases, it’s not because it’s less prevalent in our country. It’s because we don’t have the swabs, the materials to test you for this COVID-19. We’re very selective because we have to ration these swabs to the ones at most risk. People who have actual symptoms. The elderly, people in nursing homes, people who are immunosuppressed. It doesn’t mean your health is less important, but there are groups of people who could die if they contracted this virus.

Being young and healthy doesn’t completely protect you from COVID-19, but you are at less risk. You should still take this seriously and practice social distancing.

Don’t fret, because we, in health care, are here to help you, but please do your part. Monitor your symptoms. Take care to wash your hands often. Stay away from high-risk populations and groups of people. Practice social distancing, so we can #flattenthecurve. We’re in this together.

Karen Yeter is a rheumatologist who blogs at Resuscitating You.

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