Commentary: We're Still Far From The Finish Line
Shane Speights, DO, is the dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University. He also serves as the medical director for the City of Jonesboro.
If you don’t read anything past the first sentence, know this: the cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) will increase in your city, in your county and throughout Arkansas. Likely in the coming weeks and months.
More people will become infected, especially as we begin to relax restrictions that have positively impacted our fight against the virus.
As this pandemic has unfolded, the state of Arkansas did a great job of being proactive with the mandates and policies that were put in place. Kudos to Governor Asa Hutchinson, Director and State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith and numerous local officials have managed a difficult situation with wisdom and prudence.
The credit also goes to the people. We have done an amazing job of slowing the spread or “flattening the curve.” We’ve washed our hands, drastically reduced our social interactions, worn masks (per the CDC’s recommendations), and followed the guidance of our medical leaders. To keep our number of COVID-19 infections low, we have to continue those practices. Let’s keep it up.
Because we were effective, we were able to slow the spread across our state significantly. So much to the point that it’s likely you don’t know anyone that has been infected and it’s very unlikely that you know of someone that has died from this disease.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that is passed easily from person to person, typically through breathing, coughing, sneezing and even singing. Current studies still show that COVID-19 is more deadly than the flu and is causing other unexpected outcomes – such as heart damage, stroke, blood clots, kidney damage, etc. – that you don’t normally see with flu.
These severe outcomes can occur in anyone, but most of these complications occur in “vulnerable populations.” Those are people 65 or older and individuals with a chronic medical condition: high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, lung diseases, etc. Understanding this virus, how it spreads, how it infects people and the damage it does gets very complicated.
It takes a collaboration between leaders from a number of sectors to weigh public health issues and economic concerns to make decisions that are best for our community. It’s a very difficult balance. That’s why we as a society turn to experts such as physicians, researchers and scientists during these times to help inform us and our elected officials.
Across the country and across the globe, measures were put in place to limit the spread of this disease. In some instances, a total shut down of life occurred where residents were not able to leave their homes. In other examples, targeted directives were put into place to limit the spread, such as curfews, school closings and limits on gatherings.
The type of measure enacted was based on many factors that pertained to a specific geographic population, as it should be. None of these were implemented just to limit the freedoms of the individual. They were put into place to protect the public. This is not an uncommon event; we just don’t normally see it to this scale.
For example, if a person tests positive for tuberculosis - another highly infectious disease - they are required by the state to stay at home and self-quarantine until treatment is completed and they are free from the disease. If they didn’t do that, they would spread the disease throughout their community to people who were unknowingly going about their day. Public health policies are needed to protect your personal health. That’s why collaborate efforts are essential to keeping everyone safe during these unprecedented times.
These protective measures have been hard on everyone, and the resulting economic impact added to already difficult circumstances. We’re a relatively small, rural state that needs to get its people back to work. However, the virus didn’t go away over the past several weeks. It’s still here, it’s still being passed around, and we can expect the number of cases will go up.
We’re between a rock and a hard place. So what can we do? The first priority is to protect the vulnerable populations as I described above. In addition, if you’re an organization that can continue to telecommute, then do so. If it’s not vital that you open up immediately, then don’t. Continue to support our restaurants with pick-up and delivery, and please protect yourself and your family when you are in public.
As we loosen restrictions, this situation is going to test us and push us like we’ve never been before. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s going to take a while, potentially months to years, before we return to “normal.” But we’ll get through it and we’ll bounce back stronger and better with a greater appreciation for the little things and for what we have.
We can do this. We are stronger together. Stay the course.
About NYITCOM at Arkansas State University:
New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, located on A-State’s Jonesboro campus, is dedicated to improving access to health care for the underserved and rural populations in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta Region. Arkansas ranks 48th in overall population health status due to low health indicators including obesity and number of adults who smoke. The state also ranks 46th in the number of active physicians per capita and 39th in the number of primary care physicians. NYITCOM at A-State was established in 2016 with the mission of meeting the need for more physicians in this medically underserved area.