Dear Colleagues, 

The following reflection will be published in the May/June issue of the TCMS Journal from the President.

The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi Berra 

Eight weeks ago, the March/April edition of this bimonthly Journal highlighted the ongoing debate about vaccinations for preventable childhood diseases. Now, as the entire world hopes and prays for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that can’t come too soon, one wonders how a debate over the safety of vaccines for devastating childhood diseases could have ever been a thing. Will this pandemic finally close the book on the childhood vaccine debate and silence the so-called anti-vaxxers? One can hope. 

As I write this on May 1 and reflect on the past eight weeks, it is impossible to process and encapsulate all that has happened – much less to anticipate what will have happened by the time this Journal ends up in your mailbox. On March 1, we were reading about the coronavirus epidemic in China, Korea, Iran and Italy. We were just learning to bump elbows instead of shaking hands. We were going to work. Our kids were in school. We were gathering for birthdays, dinner parties, and weddings. We were anticipating graduations and summer travel. We were not wearing masks. 

In the eight weeks since, we have begun living through a disorienting time characterized by the pandemic spread of a deadly virus and the consequences of humanity’s actions to control it. In some parts of our country, the pandemic has been severe, with overwhelmed hospitals and many deaths. In other areas such as Central Texas, the burden of this disease has been more manageable. We have stepped hard on the societal brakes, with real and immediate effects on our livelihoods and our most meaningful social interactions. We have learned what it means to 

flatten the curve, to socially distance, and to have an annoying piece of paper or cloth cover our mouths and noses. 

But we have also seen inspiring efforts to cooperate and collaborate. Motivated by common cause, people are rethinking, retooling, and finding solutions. This is happening at the grass roots level of individuals and throughout the hierarchies of social organizations, businesses, healthcare structures, educational systems, and governmental entities. 

For example, one of TCMS’s main initiatives has been acquiring and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to physicians. The outpouring of donations from individuals and organizations has been inspiring and lifesaving. People have made masks and face-coverings by hand, learned how to 3-D print face shields, and leveraged relationships with supply chains to source PPE from manufacturers around the world. 

Local businesses have stepped up, finding ways to pivot from normal operations, all the while understanding that there will be no profit. Companies that distill our favorite libations now make hand-sanitizer. Furniture companies are manufacturing protective gowns. Tech companies are developing apps to help with contact tracing. Labs and clinics have ramped up testing capabilities. 

Hospital systems are collaborating daily at the highest levels, optimizing resources to care for patients. The medical community has seen new collaboration across practices and institutions and strong cooperation between academic and community physicians of all specialties and practice types. Our emergency response system, designed to deal with large-scale disasters of short duration, has rapidly adapted to managing a pandemic that will go on for months or longer. 

Similarly, our elected officials have provided leadership by fostering collaboration throughout our community. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler have been especially diligent in ensuring that their actions are guided by data, science, and on-the-ground realities of pandemic management. 

Texas has started reopening, ostensibly in a gradual and deliberate fashion. Even though stay home/work safe and social distancing measures have proven effective in our area so far, we fully expect to see another upsurge of cases. Our leaders hope it can be kept at a manageable level, without exceeding the healthcare system’s capacity. Managing this upsurge will become more effective as our testing, contact tracing, and isolation capabilities continue to improve.

It is impossible to predict what the next eight weeks will look like, not to mention the next eight months. We should expect periods where the brakes must be reapplied, and lockdown orders will be scaled back up. A vaccine is, at best, months away, so the coronavirus will be around for a long time. As a runner, this feels to me like a marathon. Week eight is mile eight. We’ve only just begun. But unlike a marathon, this is a team effort. I have no doubt that if we continue to cooperate, and collaborate, we will cross the finish line together . . . six feet apart, of course.