May 14, 2020
Moving Toward a Safe New Normal
By Dr. Claire Neely, ICSI President & CEO
Lately I’ve been part of several conversations centered on “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 and what that means for all of us. The good news is that under the leadership of our local government and thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Minnesotans across the state, we have flattened it. We now have the hospital beds, ventilators and other equipment we need to care for the people who most certainly will continue to become seriously ill from COVID-19.
What concerns me at this point, however, is that some people are equating “flattening the curve” with a return to our pre-pandemic lives. Of course, within all of us there is the hope that soon we can go back to “normal”. We miss our lives as they were, and being with the people we love.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the “normal” we all long for is at minimum many months away. And honestly, we may never go back entirely to the way things were before the pandemic.
We’ve done a good job of slowing the rate of infection, and given our hospitals the time they need to prepare for caring for people who will be getting quite sick from COVID-19 for months to come. But that is just a start. In fact, we now have another large hurdle to overcome. We need to regain ground where other important healthcare have been delayed. We need to “catch up” in several important areas of healthcare. For example:
- Many important cancer screenings and testing, including biopsies and colonoscopies, have been cancelled or postponed. Cancer treatments have continued, but altered to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19. We need to make sure we’re getting back to preventative cancer screening , and providing the best treatments possible.
- Lab tests, physical exams and other monitoring needed to assure that chronic conditions are being well managed, have been missed. We need to get people with chronic conditions safely back into routine care, in-person and assessed via telehealth or other remote technologies, to make sure their health isn’t deteriorating.
- Preventive care has suffered tremendously. You may have seen recent stories concerning lower rates of vaccination – measles in particular is a huge concern. We’ve had measles outbreaks here in Minnesota in recent years, and it won’t take much for us to lose herd immunity of measles. While not as well known, H. flu meningitis was a common illness early in my career, that is now also rare, because of infant vaccines. We need to catch up on all vaccinations to protect our population as a whole, particularly our children.
We can now begin to think about catching up on important other aspects of health during this pandemic, because we’ve done so many things to decrease the community transmission of the coronavirus. Staying at home combined with good social distancing, washing our hands frequently, wearing masks – these are all practices that have decreased the rapidity of the spread.
Having said that, the virus is still spreading and infection rates continue to rise. We’ve shown that we can flatten this particular curve but we must remember that the most lethal hotspot outbreaks occur due to community spread, when people are unsure of how or when they became infected. These types of dangerous outbreaks happen when we set aside critical practices of physical distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks regardless of known exposure and to prevent infecting others when we are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. Unless we continue these practices – all of us – we’re going to go right back to where we were several weeks ago.
As we begin to carefully re-open our clinics and our economy, we need to continue these steps to limit the spread. Remember, there is currently no preventative medicine, and no vaccine for COVID-19. Our actions are what will build the new – and safe – normal.
Claire Neely, MD, FAAP is the CEO and President of ICSI and a Minnesota healthcare leader for more than 30 years. Dr. Neely has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1995 and a board-certified Pediatrician since 1985.