The William Osler Lounge is back! This will be a place for brief, insightful thoughts on medical topics I find interesting or that have a special meaning. This month we will discuss the one topic the entire world cannot ignore, COVID19.
I admit I was wrong. Friends, family and patients would ask me for my thoughts early on when the virus first became a worldwide phenomenon. I casually would say, although a novel virus is unpredictable it likely will come and go pretty quickly like SARS or MERS and be less of a public concern compared to the annual flu. The R knot (or infectivity level) of this virus is higher than I presumed and is the reason why it has become a problem. But the mortality rate I knew had to be lower than the 1-2% that was reported because of insufficient testing. More recent evidence from Germany, Iceland and now New York suggests a mortality rate of 0.5%, which is much more manageable. As of Sunday April 26th, over 2 million infected, 200,000 worldwide deaths and 54000 US deaths. So what to do?
It has been fascinating to observe the response in different countries. Leadership styles, heroism, marketing opportunities, conspiracy theories, democratic versus dictatorial government policies, ghost towns, financial suffering, mental health crisis, environmental silver linings, technology boom (or should I say Zoom!), greed and altruism come to mind. Just like when tackling a disease like diabetes or high blood pressure, a multi-level and multi-step approach is needed. I would have press briefing structured to offer a variety of information such as update on COVID19 statistics; new social distancing or economic reopening guidelines; a national public health campaign for healthy lifestyle habits to boost the immune system such as 7.5 hours of sleep, more fruits and vegetables, less meat, daily exercise and stress reduction strategies; ways to boost social connectedness during this difficult period; create and show an algorithm that clearly indicates what to do based on symptoms, co-morbidities and testing availability; and create a map of resources available to those in need financially, medically, socially, mentally, spiritually, etc. These items should be broadcasted daily at briefings by experts in each of these fields and WITHOUT the President turning it into a TV show. So what happens now?
Regardless of the policies or tactics agreed upon by government officials or scientists of any country I think we will all end up in a similar scenario. The world will simply move on. In this social media age, attention span is ridiculously small and as we get numb to the word coronavirus and the unfortunate deaths it brings, people will simply go back to their lives and ignore. Just like they ignore the gun violence, domestic violence, car accidents, heart attacks, strokes, cancers, tobacco use, physical inactivity, suicide, poor diet, etc. that occurs daily and takes MILLIONS of lives. Now do not get me wrong, this virus came at such a rate that we had to shut down and pay attention to it. In our instant gratification world, I am afraid that attention is already fading.
Ananda Chatterjee MD
I am Family Medicine graduate of Michigan State University and currently work at AC/VC Wellness Clinic in Portland. My clinical interests include obesity medicine, lifestyle medicine and clinical lipidology. My hobbies include travel, fine dining, watching sports and binging movies and TV shows.