I hear the audible groans about the newest Michigan DHHS orders. I thought it might be helpful to offer a bit of a pep talk on behalf of medical professionals who see firsthand the suffering that COVID can bring.
There is so much misinformation around this virus, but if we listen to the epidemiologists and infectious disease experts (and filter out the other so-called “experts”), the message is actually very consistent: social distancing, mask-wearing, testing, and contact tracing, until there is a safe and effective vaccine.
The principle of “flattening the curve”, meaning slowing the rise in cases in order to not surpass the level that overwhelms resources, is still vital at this moment.
As a primary care doctor, I have seen the adverse health outcomes not only from COVID infections, but also from the delays in non-COVID healthcare during the spring surge. Cancer diagnoses were delayed, heart attacks and strokes went untreated (as patients were afraid to come to the ER), diabetes and hypertension were inadequately controlled. This inevitably led to a rise in morbidity and mortality that was not directly from the virus, but nonetheless, a consequence of the point to which the virus surged.
Locally, we are again reaching a tipping point – currently our health systems are still providing routine services, and doing so in a very safe fashion for both patients and providers. But if the numbers keep rising, not only will ERs, ICUs and hospital critical care staff have their hands full caring for patients suffering from severe COVID illness, but other health care will inevitably be curtailed.
This is preventable.
Our local Washtenaw numbers are not as bad as several other counties in the state. We have the opportunity to keep them from getting much worse. The new Michigan DHHS orders are directed to doing just that. They are targeted to the riskiest activities, which are indoor gatherings of people from multiple households, particularly without mask-wearing.
I think many of us over the summer and early fall enjoyed some reassurance from the low local infection rate. I know that I felt comfortable with my children seeing the same few friends on a rotating basis, because the statistics meant that the risk of any one friend having COVID was statistically low.
We no longer should think in this fashion. Just because my child’s friends are great kids, doesn’t mean that they may not be contagious. Ditto with me and my kids – we can all be contagious, at any time, without symptoms.
Contact tracing shows us that small social gatherings are a significant source of outbreaks (https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98163_98173_102057—,00.html). I know that not gathering with friends and family in person is frustrating, but if we can get our numbers down again to where they were, by being very careful over the next 3 weeks, we return to doing the things we were starting to enjoy again (such as small gatherings, high school sports, exercise classes).
We know now how to manage these surges, what is being ordered will rapidly reduce new cases IF followed.
And, the end is in sight. While it will take significant time to provide vaccines to the majority of the population – they are coming. Numerous vaccine manufacturers released promising data regarding efficacy just this week.
If we can each do our part, we can keep more members of our community healthy through this difficult winter.
Christa Williams MD