View of Kansas City, MO from the World War I Memorial

Eric Paul Justin, MD, MPH, MBA | 11 June 2020

Changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past four to five months are unprecedented. We are all living in a watershed period in time. We have had to learn a new way of life. For far too many that new “way” is excessively harsh for one or more reasons. As sobering as the past months have been, the uncertainty of the months and years ahead seems just as threatening. Let’s review a few of the things we have learned. 

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One, we should never have used the term “social distancing.” It is clear that “physical distancing” would have been more accurate. And in the face of such dramatic and psychologically traumatic change we also need our social lives to persist as much as is safely possible. Before COVID-19 there was already a significant mental and behavioral health problem throughout the entire United States. COVID-19 has worsened that. 

We each need to reach out to family, friends, and even to those we might not know well or at all. Questions about mental health problems for ones’ self or a family member or friend may be answered by medical professionals as well as mental health workers. One useful resource is NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Here is a link for the Kansas City Chapter:  http://www.namigreaterkc.org/.

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Two, no matter what we call our attempts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus there is strong evidence that those methods do work. We need look no farther than in Kansas and Missouri to see that. The graphs below are from an article in the Kansas City Star. They show two of  the key measures for tracking the virus:  the “positive rate” for testing and the “new case rate” for Kansas and Missouri. 

Physical distancing, using face masks, hand washing/hand sanitizer among other simple “tools” have indeed helped as these graphs will show. Also, keep in mind, much of the reporting on the pandemic is about other cities and states. Many of those places have not used the same approach our medical, public health, and civic leaders decided to us. Thus they have different if not very different results. 

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Third, a measured, evidence/fact-based approach to “opening up” is essential. Strong evidence that a rush to opening up has resulted in an increase if not a significant surge in new cases and associated hospitalizations in at least twelve states. These will add significantly to the number of dead. The above graphs also suggest the need for such an evidence-based approach. 

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Fourth, masks do work. They are not perfect. But coupled with physical distance measures and by paying attention and minimizing the time we are near others (with a mask on) the likelihood of getting the virus is significantly reduced. When your mask is wet it is much less effective. Change masks. Evidence strongly suggests if you make a mask of cloth three layers of that cloth is needed. Most importantly…do not feel shame or guilt for wearing a mask. Others may not, but that is their concern. You will be doing the right thing for yourself and potentially many other people. 

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Fifth, it is all too easy to think what we are going through is new. It is in some ways…a new or novel virus, eight billion people on the planet now, air travel that transmitted the virus virtually everywhere, and the ongoing encroachment of wild lands. What about civil unrest, huge economic impacts, increasing political strife, and the above mentioned mental health aspect of the pandemic? Sadly these are not new and have been witnessed with virtually every preceding epidemic/pandemic for several thousand years. Here is a link to a TIME article about the Cholera Pandemic of 1832: 

https://time.com/5837393/paris-cholera-lessons/

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Sixth and last, tremendous effort and many resources are being focused on developing a vaccine. Three different vaccines are entering the third phase of trials this summer. There are at last 119 different vaccines under development. Best estimates are a working vaccine by early 2021. 

I hope that is true. But why focus on vaccines? It is the one way we can actually exert significant control over spread of the novel coronavirus. Without such a vaccine our futures are filled with unpredictable upswings or surges or disappearances and returns of the virus. The states that opened too quickly seem to be well on the way to demonstrating just what our collective future may well look like. Thus, until such a vaccine is available and widely used our best choices are still physical distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, etc. 

Stay safe. God’s Blessings on you and your family. 

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