Opinion: Two weeks later, our evolving role in stopping this pandemic
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
I know that since my last letter most of us are changing the way we live our lives and are making daily sacrifices for the greater good of our families, our community and our world. We have established new routines and are adjusting in some bizarre way to this “new norm.” In spite of what feels like our best efforts and in the face of under-reported numbers, due to limited testing in our community, our numbers in Routt County continue to rise.
A new University of Washington study predicts that we are headed for a peak in Colorado between April 13 and 20. This is defined as the point at which there is the most demand for resources, namely hospital beds and ventilators.
We have 39 hospital beds in Steamboat and 10 ventilators. The average COVID-19 patient in need of a ventilator will be on that ventilator for seven to 10 days. Yes, we will attempt to utilize Denver and other metropolitan areas to care for our patients, but if this pandemic hits all at once, they too will have insufficient numbers of ICU beds and ventilators.
As we look toward these next two to three weeks and the peak of this pandemic, there is a solution and that solution involves each and every one of us. Simply put, if we want to alter the course of this pandemic, save lives in our community and shorten this crisis, we need to up our game and do more. What was good enough last week is not good enough this week.
So what more can we do? I know from personal experience that the changes we have made in our family have evolved over the past three weeks. There was a time that we thought we could pick one other family, and if we interacted with only each other, that would be a good choice. What we have since learned is that limiting our interactions to one or two other families is not good enough. The most effective behavior at this time is to interact with only the people you live with and no one else.
Our children, no matter their age, will need our support in this area. If last week letting them gather with a few friends or even one friend may have seemed OK, this week it is not. If last week a hike with five friends may have seemed OK, this week it is not. If last week playing with the neighbors seemed OK, this week it is not.
Letting our kids make these decisions for themselves is akin to letting them drink and drive. They are not only putting themselves at risk, but they are also putting the lives of others at risk. They are going to resist, and they are going to complain, and they are going to make our lives miserable. We must hold strong.
If every family takes a stand together, it will be a much easier pill to swallow. Please feel free to throw me under the bus on this change in family policy. To expect our children, no matter their age, to understand the remote but very real impact their seemingly innocuous decisions have on the lives of others is unrealistic. Yes, have them get out and exercise, and do recreate as a family, but remind them that over the coming weeks, if we are to change the course of this virus, we must do something different, and this is what that looks like.
To those of us who have jobs that are essential, we need to hold ourselves to an even higher standard when it comes to social distancing at work and to making our home team our only team. We run the risk of bringing our exposures into our families, and if our family members are interacting with others, we are putting all of those individuals and the individuals they are interacting with at risk. You get the picture. Gold standard — family or housemates only.
We all feel fortunate to live in a state where the stay-at-home order allows us to be outside and get exercise. As mentioned several times last week in the community forum, the intention of this order was to allow people to exercise on their own or with their family members. If you must recreate with someone outside of your family, make it one person only and be vigilant about staying 6 feet apart. If you can, do your recreating close to your home and avoid crowded trails or other people.
Who would have ever thought that the social highlight of our lives would now be going to City Market or Safeway? In the past few weeks, however, many of us were likely going multiple times a week to multiple stores. As we look toward the coming weeks and the peak of COVID-19 in our state, it is important to remember that every trip to the store increases our risk of exposure or exposing others.
Most individuals with COVID-19 have no idea they are carrying and spreading this virus for at least two days prior to their onset of symptoms. Other individuals may have little to no symptoms at all. Groceries are essential, but make the goal once a week or less and limit the stores you are visiting.
We know COVID-19 is now community spread; that is indisputable, and no matter the precautions there are going to be positive cases. I can confirm that as a healthcare provider, we are not able to test every person we believe to have COVID-19. Due to limited test availability, we are only testing those who are either hospitalized or are ill first responders and healthcare workers.
What this means is many of our community members are going to ride out their unconfirmed COVID-19 illnesses at home. If there is an individual in your home who has upper respiratory symptoms, mild or severe, there is no way to know that this is not COVID-19.
The recommendation is that the person should be isolated in their own room and, if possible, their own bathroom. If they are for short periods in common areas, they should wear a mask and be meticulous about hand washing and what they touch. Yes, it is very possible that family members are going to contract COVID-19, but our goal is to slow the spread.
The next part is harder. Other members of that household have now potentially been exposed, and they may not develop symptoms for two to 14 days. With this in mind, the recommendation is that they stay quarantined at home, out of the grocery store and the pharmacy for 14 days — and their essential jobs in the community.
This strategy entails not just staying home but asking other people without a sick family member to go to the store for you and run your errands. If you or a family member does become ill, please reach out to your local healthcare provider. We are here to support you and guide you through this stressful and trying time.
So where does all of this leave us? We know we are an incredibly compassionate community, and we know that we are committed to taking care of our own.
We are also an incredibly driven community. We work hard, and we play hard, and we know what it means to set a goal and work toward that goal, no matter the sacrifices we must make along the way. I would propose that these strengths, which are truly the fabric of our community, put us in a unique position to take COVID-19 on with a force unlike any it has ever known.
Can we come together over the coming weeks to make the hard choices? To give up our ways of operating which seemed like enough last week and to hold ourselves and our friends and our neighbors and our children to a higher standard? Can we as a community make the adjustments and the sacrifices needed over the next three to four weeks to truly shut this virus down?
The reality is each and every one of us has the power to truly alter the course of this disease in our community. Most of us will never be asked to run into a burning building to save the life of another, but each and every one of us is being asked right now to step up and do our part to save lives in our community. It feels distant and it feels strange, but every bit of evidence shows that taking these precautions will truly save lives in our community.
Steamboat is not unique in being able to avoid the impact of this pandemic, but we are unique when it comes to our ability to work together to fight this common enemy. It is game time Steamboat Springs, and there is not another community on the planet that I would choose to have by my side as we wage this battle.
Millie Flanigan is a physician assistant practicing at Steamboat Springs Family Medicine. She has called Steamboat Springs home since 1990. She is married to Gardner Flanigan and is mom to Bode and Merritt Flanigan.
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