In early May, I wrote a short piece called Eight Weeks, reflecting on the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more weeks have come and gone, and now we find ourselves six months into this thing. At the time, I compared managing the pandemic to running a marathon. Perhaps an ultra-marathon would have been more apt.
Here we are with The Summer of COVID winding down, and the 2020-2021 school year beginning. While summer may be gone, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly is not. We saw a severe spike in July that pushed our healthcare resources to the brink. As in a game of tug-of-war, we were on the verge of being pulled across the center line, but at the last moment our team rallied, and we started pulling back. We are far from winning this tug-of-war with SARS-CoV-2. As we have seen, many cities and countries that seemingly had things under control have experienced resurgence of the disease.
In six months though, we have learned many things. Most importantly, we have learned that we can slow the spread of the virus by doing some very basic things: wearing our masks, washing our hands, keeping several feet away from others, staying home if sick, and refraining from gathering in groups. We have learned better ways to care for those becoming severely ill from COVID-19. We have learned that our public health system is unprepared to handle a crisis like this and must be overhauled. And we have learned that politics can get in the way of rational decision-making based on science and medicine.
In Eight Weeks I highlighted the broad collaboration throughout our community that has helped us manage the pandemic. This collaboration has been tremendous. We are in a much better place now because of it. As this pandemic wears on, however, we must continue to work together. At this point, we are all experiencing pandemic fatigue, but we must stay the course and continue pulling together.
As medical professionals, we will continue to calmly and clearly educate our patients and the public about ways to stay healthy. This includes continuing to meticulously care for other “normal” health conditions and continuing appropriate health screening and prevention efforts. While COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in this nation (a really disquieting statistic), we must not be distracted from caring for cardiovascular disease and cancer (the first and second leading causes of death) and other serious health conditions.
This pandemic is taking place in the context of a period of social and political upheaval. Tragically, political rhetoric obscures evidence-based efforts to fight the pandemic and undermines public trust in science and medicine. Despite that, I am optimistic that ultimately, we will, in the words of a marooned astronaut played by Matt Damon in the film The Martian, “science the shit out of this!”
I am most optimistic about two initiatives where we see recent progress: the development of rapid, cheap, frequent testing capability, and the development of effective vaccines. As these technologies and treatments come online, they will enable us to end the pandemic and return to normal life, but only if people respond by actually getting tested and actually getting vaccinated. If we fail to help each other and ourselves by doing these things, all that science will be for naught.
In Eight Weeks, I closed with the hope that by collaborating we will cross the finish line of a marathon together. At the risk of mixing metaphors, I’d like to close Six Months by revisiting that tug of war I mentioned earlier.
These last six months have shown how critical it is for physicians to pull together as a team. One of the best ways for us to do that is by participating in organized medicine, specifically through our membership in TCMS and the TMA. The upcoming issue of the TCMS journal focuses on the value of that membership. Dues notices for 2021 go out this month. Please respond and renew early.
Together, we will win this tug of war.