Monday, March 09, 2020

An Infectious Disease Specialist Weighs-in on Covid-19

The following was written and posted on Facebook by Abdu Sharkawy, MD, of the University Health Network. I find it to be a very measured and helpful response to the current global spread of Covid-19 (also known as the coronavirus).

I'm a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I've been at this for more than 20 years, seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, hepatitis, TB, SARS, measles, shingles, whooping cough, diphtheria . . . there is little I haven't been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.

I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19.

What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they “probably don't have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know . . .” and those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess.

I am scared that travel restrictions will become so far reaching that weddings will be canceled, graduations missed, and family reunions will not materialize. And well, even that big party called the Olympic Games . . . that could be kyboshed too. Can you even imagine?

I'm scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise, and ultimately culminate in a global recession.

But mostly, I'm scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.

Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and "fight for yourself above all else" attitude could prove disastrous.

I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience, and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let's meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.

Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it.

Abdu Sharkawy
via Facebook
March 5, 2020

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Doctor's Facebook Post Attacking 'Wave of Fear' Over Coronavirus Goes Viral – Ross McGuinness (Yahoo! News, March 9, 2020).
Coronavirus: Infectious Disease Doctor Warns Against Mass Panic and (March 7, 2020).
Coronavirus Symptoms: The Difference Between the Flu and the Virus – John Elder (The New Daily, March 6, 2020).
What Does the Coronavirus Do to Your Body? Everything to Know About the Infection Process – Javier Zarracina and Adrianna Rodriguez (USA Today, March 14, 2020).
What Will You Do If You Start Coughing? – James Hamblin (The Atlantic, March 11, 2020).
Five Times Trump and US Officials Downplayed Coronavirus as the Administration Struggled to Prepare for the Growing Pandemic – Jake Lahut (Business Insider, March 12, 2020).
Senegal Is Reportedly Turning Coronavirus Tests Around “Within 4 Hours” While Americans Might Wait a Week – Jeva Lange (The Week, March 12, 2020).
Sorry, Trump: You Bear Sole Responsibility for Your Disastrous Response to the Coronavirus – Kerry Eleveld (Daily Kos, March 13, 2020).
Donald Trump Is the Very Worst Person to Handle the Coronavirus Crisis – Julian Borger (The Guardian, March 12, 2020).
The Sick Joke of Donald Trump's Presidency Isn't Funny Any More – Richard Wolffe (The Guardian, March 13, 2020).
The Writing Is On the Wall for Trump – Daniel Larison (The American Conservative, March 13, 2020).
How Bad Could the Coronavirus Get in the US? I Asked an Expert – Sean Illing (Vox, March 12, 2020).
Unprepared America Wakes Up to Coronavirus, Gradually Then All at Once – Ed Pilkington (The Guardian, March 13, 2020).
The Coronavirus’s Real and Immediate Threat to Democracy – Yasmeen Serhan (The Atlantic, March 12, 2020).
Bernie Just Laid Out a Humane Approach to Dealing with the Coronavirus. Biden Did Not – Miles Kampf-Lassin (In These Times, March 16, 2020).
The Economic Impact of COVID-19 Will Hit Minorities the Hardest – Kori Hale (Forbes, March 17, 2020).
We’re Not Going Back to Normal – Gideon Lichfield (Technology Review, March 17, 2020).
Forced to Finally Take Coronavirus Seriously, Trump Turns to Racism – Lydia O’Connor (The Huffington Post, March 18, 2020).
Trump Continues Calling the Coronavirus “Chinese” Despite Reports of Anti-Asian Hate CrimesDemocracy Now! (March 19, 2020).

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