And while the risk remains low in Canada, health officials — including chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam — say social distancing to help flatten the curve is crucial. Don’t want to read about the scary truths? Fine, tweeted Ottawa doctor Yoni Freedhoff: “I promise to (share less scary truths) when everyone stays the f–k home.”
And yet, despite those calls, confusion, uncertainty and — in some cases — ignorance continue to flourish. People continue to make playdates and dinner dates, some have not cancelled their spring break plans, and some still packed the streets in full force to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Here are some of the more impassioned pleas health-care workers have made to try to make me, you, and every single person take action.
Exhausted and anxious, but trying to stay positive
Health-care providers are “exhausted, anxious and scrambling” to deal with COVID-19, says Dr. Brett Belchetz, an emergency room physician in Toronto.
“We are a little bit terrified every time we go to work,” he said.
So far, things feel “eerily similar” to the SARS outbreak, he says, but there are important differences the public needs to know: on an individual basis, this virus isn’t as bad, but on a systemic basis? It’s much, much worse. And part of that is because you can be asymptomatic and still spread COVID-19.
“Facilities weren’t built to isolate the volume of cases,” Belchetz says.
“All it takes is one slip-up… one patient who has COVID-19 who we just don’t identify as likely to have it who gets in a room with lots of other patients.”
For attempting to warn the world, they were reprimanded
Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was one of the first to warn Chinese authorities about the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus.
Wenliang, who was working in Wuhan, was reprimanded by local authorities for allegedly spreading rumours after reporting in December about a number of cases of pneumonia that appeared to be linked to a local seafood market.
He died in early February, before the spread of COVID-19 prompted widespread shutdowns around the world. The World Health Organization tweeted its condolences, saying “we all need to celebrate” the work he did on the novel coronavirus.
Another doctor in Wuhan, who says she was reprimanded after speaking up about a SARS-like virus she was seeing in patients as early as December, said if she’d known so many people — including Wenliang — would die, she wouldn’t have cared about the consequences of speaking out.
“If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have f–-king talked about it to whoever, wherever I could,” Ai Fen said in an interview with Chinese magazine, Renwu, reported The Guardian.
Facing ‘wartime’ dilemmas if we don’t socially distance
Dr. Daniel Horn is leading a COVID-19 team for the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In The Atlantic, he spoke about the consequences if we don’t practise extreme social distancing:
“What we’ll start to see are primary-care practices jammed up with calls, because calls with worried patients take a really long time. Then the really worried, scared patient that doesn’t get through will unnecessarily go to the emergency department, which is already full. That clearly will create a major strain on emergency-department management systems.
“And then the hospital fills with older patients with coronavirus with low oxygen levels that need oxygen support and IV fluids and help with nutrition. Suddenly we have multiple floors of those patients filling up beds. And then 15 percent of them begin to crash and develop acute respiratory distress requiring mechanical ventilation to save their life—all at the same time—and then we don’t have enough ICU beds and mechanical ventilators to manage the patients that are all crashing at the same time. We will be (grappling with) the types of ethical dilemmas that we really only see in wartime in this country.”
The doctor who won’t see his family for the ‘foreseeable future’
Rachel Patzer, an epidemiologist in the United States, wrote on Twitter about the difficult decision she had to make with her husband, an emergency doctor on the front lines.
While he treats patients, Patzer wrote that he will be living in isolation in the family’s garage apartment. “We have a 3 wk old newborn and 2 young kids and just can’t risk it,” she wrote on Twitter.
“It pains me to wonder how many weeks will go by that he won’t get to hold our new baby or see our older kids. This is one example of the sacrifice that healthcare workers are making for our communities.”
The New York doctor who warns ‘the sky is falling’
“Like everyone, I have moments where imagining the worst possible Covid-19 scenario steals my breath. But cowering in the dark places of our minds doesn’t help. Rather than private panic, we need public-spirited action,” wrote Dr. Cornelia Griggs, a pediatric surgery fellow, in The New York Times.
“Those of us walking into the rooms of Covid-19-positive patients every day need you and your minds, your networks, your creative solutions, and your voices to be fighting for us. We might be the exhausted masked face trying to resuscitate you when you show up on the doorstep of our hospital. And when you do, I promise not to panic. I’ll use every ounce of my expertise to keep you alive. Please, do the same for us.”
‘The sneakiest — and perhaps most dangerous — virus I’ve ever seen’
“There are times when it feels like the whole department is on fire,” wrote Ontario nurse Cynthia Rennie-Faubert in Reader’s Digest.
“This outbreak is scarier because patients can spread the virus while symptom-free. With SARS, it was clearer who was infected… The only thing that scares me is if we reach a worst-case scenario. We only have so many ventilators, for example. We don’t have enough for the whole community. I shudder at the thought of a ‘steal from Peter to pay Paul’ situation emerging under the pandemic.”
A message to the naysayers
“Naysayers and doubters are still, incredibly, refusing to listen to the nearly unanimous voice of the nation’s health and medical authorities, who are pleading for everything to be canceled or closed that can be, and urging aggressive social distancing to limit the virus’s spread,” wrote ER Dr. Clayton Dalton in a piece for The Guardian urging the public to take COVID-19 seriously.
READ MORE: Live updates — coronavirus in Canada
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel.
Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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