We are in the midst of a historic and unprecedented event. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 will be one for the history books. How will history judge our response to this crisis?
Certainly, we as a nation and as a health system were unprepared for a pandemic of this magnitude. It has exposed the flaws and weaknesses in our health system and pointed out the real need for expanded primary care in our country. It has also been a stark reminder of the importance the social determinants of health play in an individual’s and communities’ overall health. African-Americans have been disproportionately at higher risk of contracting and even dying from COVID-19.
As I write this, Alabama now has over 2,000 cases of COVID-19, a doubling of cases in less than one week, with approximately 50 deaths in our state. We now have cases in 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties, and the limited testing in Geneva County may well be the reason they have yet to confirm a case of COVID-19.
Our State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris, has been recommending self-isolation and social distancing for several weeks now. Governor Kay Ivey issued the statewide shelter in place order last Friday effective at 5:00 p.m. Saturday, April 4. For a contagious respiratory infection for which we have no treatment, isolation, social distancing and public avoidance are our only effective means to slow down the spread of his disease and save lives. Dr. Harris and Governor Ivey are to be commended for having the courage to make this difficult decision and to do what is right, what was needed, in the face of the political pressure against these measures.
The closing of schools and daycares, the shuttering of non-essential businesses, the avoidance of large group meetings, the delaying of elective medical procedures are all disruptive and will cause economic hardships. But it will save lives. That has to take precedence. Models predict between 500 and 1,000 Alabamians could die from COVID-19 in the next six months. Between 100,000 and 2 million Americans could die from COVID-19 in the next six months. Even those lower-end numbers are frightening but the only way to keep the numbers on the low end instead of the upper end of that range is to strictly apply our only weapons against this disease: self-isolation, social distancing and public avoidance.
Stay at home, folks. The life you save may be your own, or mine, or someone you love.
John S. Meigs, Jr., MD, is president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama