A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

From the Frontline: Dr. Douglas Flora says ‘solidarity is key.’ Can we make the right choices? Yes, we can.

By Douglas B. Flora, MD, LSSB
Executive Medical Director, Oncology Services
St. Elizabeth Healthcare

By now we are all aware of the challenge ahead with the arrival of COVID-19 in our region.

As I write this, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center is reporting more than 61,000 confirmed cases in the United States.

The Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region is now appropriately bracing for this pandemic in our own hospitals and physician offices.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced he has tested positive for the virus.

Many of us are also aware that the numbers being widely shared probably underrepresent the true number of patients infected, as COVID-19 testing has not been widely available due to shortages of testing kits.

We see governors placing their states under “shelter in place” restrictions and asking us to socially distance ourselves.

All of these things are understandably contributing to increasing anxiety levels.

To this I offer, “Take a deep breath.”

Dr. Amy Acton. (Click to view her YouTube video.)

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton (fast emerging as one of the nation’s recent heroes as this story unfolds) captures where we are in healthcare right now, “I don’t want you to be afraid. I am not afraid, I’m determined … this is our one shot in this country. All of us are going to have to sacrifice, and I know someday we’ll be looking back and wondering what was it we did at this moment?”

While I am not scared, I do respect this coronavirus.

This is not the flu — this is a new bug. Nobody has any immunity to it. There is no vaccine, and to date there is no proven treatment.

Our American spirit may help our society survive this, so we ask that you follow the advice provided to you by our public health officials. Stay home, socially distance, cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and please wash your hands frequently.

Healthcare teams are working closely together to prepare and respond, but we desperately need your help to combat our common enemy. We need to reduce the rate at which this virus spreads so that we can decrease the rate at which we need to admit, treat and ventilate our friends, family members and neighbors.

Without respecting rigorous social distancing, the disease will overwhelm the number of nurses, physicians, ICU beds and ventilators that any hospital has available.

We need to be unified in our approach as a society, or we will just be chasing this virus, versus defeating it. It is a race to see if we can isolate infected people before they infect others. This is extremely challenging, but it is possible. The proof is in the data emerging from the origin of the pandemic itself.

Dr. Doug Flora

Encouragingly, officials in Wuhan, China, were able to announce that, for the first time in months, ZERO new infections of the COVID-19 were identified on March 19. This means large-scale transmissions have been successfully suppressed at the center of this pandemic’s original outbreak. The Chinese did this by sheltering in place, much like state governors across the U.S. are now requiring. They did this by requiring true social distancing and by washing their hands.

This solidarity is the key to defeating this pathogen.

I was inspired by these moving words this week of Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization, “This amazing spirit of human solidarity must become even more infectious than the virus itself. This is the defining global health crisis of our time. The days, weeks and months ahead will be a test of our resolve, a test of our trust in science and a test of solidarity.”

On the frontlines, we are fighting for you and praying with you. We know that together we can defeat this pandemic, but to do so, we have to answer these questions in the positive.

Do we have the self-discipline and resolve to pass this test as a community and as a nation?

Yes, we do.

Can you individually make the choices that you know are right in order to protect the lives of strangers?

Yes, you can.

Rather than be fearful, can you instead be determined?

Yes, you can.

You must.

And you will.

(Click to view interactive map)

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