Over the last several weeks, my internal medicine practice has had a drastic transformation because of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Hospital rounds continue, but now behind a surgical mask. Clinic visits remain face to face, but only if technology assisted virtual visits count.
My patients’ intelligent and honest questions continue to be a catalyst for meaningful conversation. As many became recurring, sharing these questions and responses seemed most appropriate.
Is coronavirus really as bad as they predicted, or is it more political? Simply stated, the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest public health risk seen by any person living today. The scope of impact is vast, resulting in extensive morbidity and mortality and the crippling of our and the world’s economy.
So, do I think this virus is political? Absolutely not. Do I think efforts have been made to make it so? Absolutely.
In my opinion, there is no place for partisan rhetoric when lives are at stake. Bipartisan efforts are needed to combat this devastating disease.
How long will this last? As the effort to curb the aggressive spread of COVID-19 continues, it has become painfully obvious it is no longer a sprint but a distance run. Research, testing, and development take time to complete correctly and safely. I foresee a true end only when an effective treatment is developed or a vaccination is perfected. Best case scenario, this will take six more months. Realistically, plan for one year.
How do you feel about less government restrictions? I have yet to see a true plateau in cases or consistent decline, so I was not and am not keen on relaxing restrictions without strict guidelines. Early restrictions appear to have been beneficial and, at least temporarily, flattened the curve. But with isolation fatigue and frustration mounting, a significant gamble lifting restrictions was made.
Saying that, I understand and respect the pressures government officials are under to balance public and economic health. Politics has always been a science of compromise. Medicine, largely, is not.
Regardless of your side in this debate, it is important to point out the obvious. If we all chose to live responsibly, and be respectful of others, regulations would not be necessary.
My anxiety and depression have increased since the pandemic started. I’ve gained weight since being at home. Is that normal? During times of personal or global crisis, it is not uncommon to have an increase in underlying anxiety and depression symptoms. One of the ways we self treat, although not the best, is with comfort eating. First, and foremost, know you are not alone. Second, if symptoms become severe, please contact your doctor or seek care immediately.
Multiple options of therapy, including medications and counseling, are available. Last, remember anxiety and depression present as a form of negative energy. Transitioning this energy toward something positive such as exercise, reading, or volunteering can improve and sometimes alleviate symptoms.
What are your thoughts about wearing masks in public? Wearing a mask in a public setting is an outward expression of kindness and respect. Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer of the Alabama Department of Public Health, describes wearing one as “good manners”. It demonstrates disease awareness and humbleness knowing you could be an asymptomatic carrier and pose potential harm to others. I cannot come up with a reason not to participate in an effort to decrease transmission and spread. I fully support wearing a face covering while in public. Honestly, I wish it was mandated.
So where do we go from here? Sadly, in the midst of this unprecedented medical crisis, a social crisis years in the making has emerged. In this great country, for someone to feel discriminated against, unsafe, unwanted, or forgotten is unacceptable. We are better than this.
Change is needed for each of these public health crises, but change is hard. Change requires effort. Change requires stepping outside of your comfort zone and placing yourself in your neighbor’s shoes. Change is necessary.
So, specifically for COVID-19, wear your mask when in public. Practice social distancing. Actively take measures to avoid contracting the virus by minimizing risky exposures. This, in turn, protects others with whom you may be in contact. Advocate for and protect the older population, the most vulnerable. It’s our time to take care of them.
Honestly, I hope I look back post-pandemic and realize I overreacted. I can live with that. But if the severity of the virus is further realized and spread continues or worsens, I hope the pandemic end leaves us with no regret knowing, we, regardless of wealth, politics, religion, race, gender, or age, fought this disease together, to the best of our ability.
— Dr. Scott Matthews is a Decatur internist.