COVID guide: A physician’s pandemic perspective

Let me be real. Six months in and the pandemic has humbled us all. In both small and large ways, every part of our lives has changed. Daily, we are learning together. Here’s a lesson: Truly inconvenient and deeply challenging events always serve to refocus our attention on the essentials. Seriously, who has room for anything else?
For our healthcare community, COVID-19 has re-affirmed the value of preparation, for responsibility and for the act of caring.
Regarding the virus, locally we’ve been relatively fortunate. Some have suffered terrifically, with more to come. Most are well. Vermonters have been good with the public health fundamentals of social distancing and masking. We don’t see big crowds. This is Vermont sensibility. Geography separates our small communities and benefits us all during this pandemic. The virus loves congregated people. Our state leadership reminds us of this daily. Their guidance has been excellent. 
In our part of Vermont the coronavirus prevalence remains modest and publicly manageable. A community sense of gratitude is warranted. Entering the fall season, confidence cannot transfer into collective hubris. We cannot say, “We are good. We got this.” This would be a misstep into tragedy. 
Six months in, here’s what I’ve learned: It’s easy to underestimate the foe.
It’ll be late fall, winter and early spring when health care providers will be confronted with respiratory patients and we’ll be saying is this COVID? Is this influenza? Is this COPD? So, we have to be prepared for the inevitable. In fall, we typically begin our flu shot clinics, encouraging everyone to get a flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available. This year, getting a flu shot will be an especially important preventative measure.
In spring 2020, when the pandemic hit, we had a lot of patients with chronic illness and chronic care needs. We didn’t have the opportunity to see those with underlying conditions and continue their care. Now we are actively reaching out, proactively scheduling consultations while those patients at the highest risk can safely take advantage of this lull in prevalence of the coronavirus.
We have COVID in the community and we have respiratory patients in the office. So at Community Health, we are training and redesigning the facility for the safety of our patients and for our staff anticipating more COVID. We are doing a pretty significant expansion to get this right in terms of our ventilation systems and our workflow.
Probably the most difficult question we are asked is how do I keep my family safe and healthy with schools opening and employers bringing workers back? COVID is a family disease. Other members of the family are either infected or affected. What can I do? What can I expect? What do I do with my children? What do I do with my partner, my spouse? How do I protect my parents? Everyone has been traumatized by this and I don’t think we have fully recognized the degree of trauma that we are experiencing. It’s changed our behaviors dramatically. 
We have COVID now, but we have had MERS and SARS and Ebola and HIV and before that polio and TB and plague. In three or four years there will be something else. This is a human condition in terms of health care. 
The answer is there is no great answer for all of the questions created by this public health crisis. But, here is perspective. We do not have a treatment for COVID-19. Despite the promising hope for a vaccine, community immunity is not around the corner. The public’s health doesn’t come quickly. It takes time, and patience, responsible actions, education, understanding and a determined focus on our life’s essentials. This important work will take the full measure of our Vermont common sensibility. 
Right now the COVID-19 prevalence in Vermont is low. Now is our moment to increase our vigilance and increase our resources for the next six to 12 months.
Our way forward is not about me, or you. It’s about us.
Today, this is our greatest challenge. We will remain humble. 
Dr. Bradley Berryhill is Chief Medical Officer at Community Health. He joined the Rutland-based health care network in 2004 as medical director. A 1986 graduate of State University of New York Upstate, he completed his residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center in Syracuse and received a master’s degree in health care policy and administration from Harvard University in 2006.

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