By ROB LAMBERTS, MD
Things have changed.
The governor has eased restrictions and now we can go to restaurants, go bowling, get tattoos, and visit many of the stores that were previously closed. Churches are now planning to meet again.
This leaves many of my patients wondering what to do. Is it OK to go to these stores, to get your hair done, to join the neighborhood pool, to go out to eat, to go to church? Is it safe to do now?
No. It’s not safe yet. You are at the same risk of catching coronavirus now that you were 2 weeks, or 1 month ago. The change in the policies in both Georgia and South Carolina were not due to a lessening of the risk of the infection; it is an economic decision. It was very reasonable to shut everything down when we didn’t know how full our hospitals, ICU’s, and ER’s would get with a surge in cases. It was important to “flatten the curve,” and that seems to have worked. We do have enough capacity right now to handle the number of critically ill people in our hospitals. But that could change.
So what will happen now that “stay at home” restrictions are going away? It’s very likely that the number of infected people will go up, as will the number of deaths. So why open things back up? Because we cannot keep everything shut down while we wait for 1-2 years for a vaccine to come out. The economy simply can’t sustain that, and people would suffer because of it (economically, emotionally, and physically). We need people working again, and we need to avoid a total collapse of our economy.
But again, do not think it’s now safer than it was before the governor’s decision. Do not think it’s not still important for high-risk people to remain isolated, for people to stop wearing masks, or to stop washing their hands. This virus has killed nearly 75,000 people in the U.S., and the rise in deaths is not seeming to slow at all. A vaccine is unlikely to come out in 2020, so we will have to adjust to the new normal of living in the shadow of this pandemic. It will take a very long time for things to resemble the way things were before this all started.
So what should you do? Should you still stay home, or is it OK to start going to the store, to church, to social gatherings? That’s a difficult question to answer, but here are some guidelines that are pretty certain:
- If you are over 65 and/or have significant risk factors for severe infection, you need to stay home as much as possible and continue to isolate.
- Continue wearing masks! I know that’s a nuisance, and many object (some violently) to the government or stores “forcing” people to wear masks. To this objection i respond by pointing out that the government forces you to wear pants. That’s not an issue of public safety, it’s just a standard of decency. Given this fact, forcing you to wear a mask, which is for the safety of others, is very reasonable. Don’t be a dope! Just wear the stupid mask!
- Continue to wash your hands, especially after you’ve been in a public place! Assume the virus is around you, and that anything you touch could be contaminated.
- Remember that even if you are healthy, the reason for most of these measures is to protect those who are vulnerable. You may spread the virus to someone who cares for an elderly parent. We need to take responsibility for the vulnerable people we come in contact with.
So what is our office going to do moving ahead? We’ve been doing the vast majority of our care using phone and video visits. People like them, and have been able to get good care this way. But there’s a lot of you out there who need to be contacting us and getting problems handled. There are a lot of medical problems getting neglected. There are many people putting off care for fear of the virus. That must change.
Here is the plan:
- Dr. Boland and I will have different days to be in the office to see people. This makes it so we can lower the risk of you getting or spreading the virus if you have to come in to be seen. We will also make people wait in their cars until the previous patient is out of the office.
- Any visits that can be done via phone or video should be done in that way. We may then (as we’ve been doing) bring you in for labs or vitals. The nurses are setting up a separate location where people can get these done without coming in contact with others.
- We will require everyone coming to the office to wear a mask and wash (or sanitize) hands upon entering. This is both for your protection and that of others. We ask that you bring your own mask, if possible. You also have to wear pants.
- Those who are very high-risk will be accommodated by doing house calls when possible. Obviously, this will be limited, but it will be available to those who are especially fragile.
- People who are sick with fever, cough, or other worrisome symptoms will be kept out of the office if possible. We’ll use the tent, see you in the car, or do whatever else is reasonable to protect others from being exposed to what you have.
- We ask that all visits to the office, whether for office visits, lab draws, or to pick up medications, be scheduled. Please call or text us and let us know when you come in. This will prevent bottlenecks and maintain social distancing.
To be honest, we are making this up as we go along. We don’t know what will happen over the upcoming months, but we do know people will have problems they need to come in for, and many have conditions they need to stop neglecting.
Again, thanks for your trust.