All of our country's sacrifices to "flatten the curve" will fall short if Americans don't fully and immediately embrace the personal sacrifices effective social distancing requires. According to the well-regarded model just published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, population-wide social distancing will "have the largest impact" on suppressing the new coronavirus. Fortunately, our government officials and media have socialized this concept widely. Yet most Americans still struggle to stay six feet away from friends, colleagues, and even strangers.
This is hard! We are social beings who seek personal interaction, particularly in challenging times. So we make exceptions for the best friend's birthday party, small play dates, the neighbor who needs a hand, other people waiting on line for groceries, and so on. But these seemingly innocent one-off exceptions are collectively undercutting what's needed to stop our health system from soon being overwhelmed.
Why we need our clinicians to reach out
I believe we need our clinicians, and the trust so many people place in them personally, to close this deadly gap between kind of and consistently practicing social distancing. More specifically, I implore all physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to reach out to all who have looked to them for medical guidance—through email, patient portals, or social media—with an uncomfortable message akin to what follows. I also implore health system leaders to muster whatever support they can, from amassing contact lists to merging and sending emails, to expedite such outreach by their clinicians.
Dear Jane and John,
I need your help in suppressing the coronavirus. There is no longer any debate—all medical experts agree that the spread of coronavirus is now on pace to overwhelm the U.S. health care system by this summer. The most powerful tool we have left to change this alarming projection is social distancing. Yet far too many people are falling short of what's needed.
The purpose of this email is to ensure you are fully embracing social distancing and enforcing the practice among all around you. You should self-quarantine if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or been exposed to the virus. Social distancing applies to everyone else and seems straightforward, at least in theory:
- Avoid public places; and
- Keep six feet between you and anyone with whom you don't have to regularly interact.
This means sacrifices, such as not going out for coffee or food you can make at home, standing six feet apart from others in line at the grocery store, and moving kids' playdates to FaceTime or Skype. You need to determine right now with whom you must have live contact and keep all others at least six feet away at all times.
I recognize that there may be exceptions due to health or safety concerns, but such exceptions should be rare. I also recognize that consistently practicing social distancing will require personal sacrifice and at times be painful. In fact, not feeling such emotions every day suggests you should be doing more to socially distance yourself or your family.
Your top resources for coronavirus readiness
You're no doubt being inundated with a ton of information on how to prepare for possible patients with COVID-19. To help you ensure the safety of your staff and patients, we pulled together the available resources on how to safely manage and prevent the spread of COVID-19.