Dr Charles Hurbis

Dr Charles Hurbis

It will never cease to amaze me just how many people still don’t think this pandemic is real. Just because we didn’t live in Hiroshima in 1945 doesn’t mean there wasn’t an atomic bomb dropped on the city. And yes, it is the same thing. So far, the coronavirus has claimed more lives in the U.S. than either of the atomic bombs dropped during WWII. We are just lucky enough to not live at ground zero. But rather than look at our incredible good fortune, some would rather insist that the global pandemic is otherwise a political hoax and that we should go back to life as usual without the need for protection. Some actually believe that a vaccine is unneeded and will refuse to get one when they become available. If this becomes the prevailing attitude for our community over the next series of months, we will put ourselves squarely in the crosshairs of the next outbreak.

So, is it time to reopen the country? Well, both yes and no. Small businesses are hurting badly, and even with the stimulus packages (hopefully more to come) it will take a great deal of time before most recover. Some clearly will never recover. Even with a reopening, if done properly, small businesses will still find it hard to make money, much less just break even for quite some time. The business volume needed for profitability may be hard to reach unless creative changes are enacted by each business individually, but then Americans have always been creative. If our population is responsible enough to follow a defined subset or rules, then reopening will work and can be done safely. Adopting an, “I’ll do whatever I want attitude," will be setting us up for disaster.

So, what is doing it properly? There’s no magic formula here and we already know the answer. First, the ubiquitous masking of employees and patrons. Next, consumer distancing. Businesses will need customer limits in place and rules for spacing to avoid dangerous congestion. But, (and it’s a big but) to make this work everyone needs to be on board, socially responsible and respectful of others. Who is going to police guidelines? Pretty much just ourselves. Even if laws are enacted, there is only so much capacity available to enforce them. We’ve all seen the YouTube videos where attempts at internal enforcement have gone very badly for some poor employee. It’s really up to us.

It all comes down to us and how much we value our society. Reopening worked in New Zealand (less than 30 deaths nationwide) and I’d like to think it can work here. As Americans we value our freedoms, but your personal freedom should not be to the detriment of your fellow Americans. This should be especially true for Americans that preceded you and earned you that freedom in the first place.

Third, it also turns out that the virus is much less likely to be transmitted outside, so spending more time in the great out-of-doors is actually safer (no this doesn’t include the lines at Disneyland). Lastly, it is especially important to protect those at risk of severe complications. Interestingly, one third of all deaths in this country (and amazingly one half of those in New Jersey) involved nursing home residents or workers. That’s a terrifying number, but it also helps us identify where unwavering precautions are needed.

Quick subject coverage:

Testing: Becoming more available and faster, but still fairly inaccurate. Most of this may be due to improper sampling technique. Well trained testers are important to obtain a valid result. Your timing within the disease process will also affect the accuracy of many test.

Vaccination: A few companies are on a fast track, and it’s possible something may be available by year end. Still, there is no guarantee we will get anything that quickly. Also, production and distribution issues will further delay availability.

Second wave: Schools and colleges may open this fall, institution specific. If guidelines can be followed and strict protocols enforced the spread could be limited. But then it’s so hard to be young, and it’s normal to rebel against authority. This could likely herald in a second wave of infections.

What the future holds: Illness severity aside, I think that this crisis is going to hit the young harder than anyone. Here they are, on the verge of starting their lives and the world has just ground to a halt. Social interaction is taboo and jobs are non-existent. Certainly, this is no different than any other personal crisis someone must deal with in their lives. People undergoing cancer treatment, contracting a debilitating illness or just losing a job will suffer a similar hardship. It just so happens that with the coronavirus, everyone is being affected at the same time so it looks so much worse. Either way, hardship is often an opportunity for personal growth. I’d like to think that with this crisis there’s opportunity for a bit of a selective planet redesign, with intelligent changes spearheaded by these younger creative people. After all, it’ll be their planet, and we’re long overdue in a number of areas.

So, to wrap up, the most important parts of reopening will be the uniform use of masks, social distancing and protection of the at-risk population. Yes, wearing a mask may be inconvenient, but you must look at the bright side. This will probably be the healthiest year you’ve ever had. And just think of all the money you will save on make-up, orthodontia and plastic surgery. What to do with the savings? Well, it’s a very good time to buy a car (yes, driving is an outdoor activity that does count).

Maybe next month we’ll talk about something else, but I doubt it.

Doc H

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