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MEEKER | Imagine with me, for a moment, there is a new infectious disease the world has never seen before and for which the medical community has no curative treatments. We also don’t know how deadly it is or how fast it spreads. OK, you don’t have to try that hard to imagine as we close out 2020, but take this journey with me for conversation’s sake because this whole mess has brought our society (and our community) too close to a breaking point. This breaking point follows too sharply along the lines of political and emotional biases, and both sides of this dichotomy have good reasons for their beliefs but seem unable to recognize, understand, accept, and respect the reasons behind the other. Consequently, we have polarized to an all or nothing scenario. We hear “the other side’s” perspective, and we reflexively pull harder in our own direction. The consequences will not be good if we continue down this path. Hence, it’s time for this conversation. We can do both — we can mitigate risk to protect the vulnerable, and we can move forward with our lives. We just need to come back to the table.
So, back to our journey…as this virus first sweeps across America, thousands of Americans die, and many more are hospitalized with severe illness. Fear grips us for our loved ones, our friends, and ourselves, as the medical community and scientists race to learn about the virus and any way we can potentially treat it. “Experts” quickly unfold evolving opinions, as the virus is too new for anyone on earth to truly be an expert. However, we follow these theories and adjust our approach as new information is learned every day, to the best of our ability. Within months, we learned that our approach was not saving many lives, and that it may actually have killed many patients. We adjusted some more, society locked down, and the case numbers and deaths seemed to wane. In the process of trying to “slow” the spread, we shifted our goal posts to “stopping” the spread.
Consequently, temporary closures and restrictions turned into lockdowns and prolonged restrictions that completely decimated thousands of businesses. According to the Brookings Institute, this has globally resulted in an additional 120 million people below the poverty line. This does not only affect the current working generation, as the United Nations’ Children Fund has declared that 86 million children will be living in poverty-stricken homes by the end of the year. A different published article in the International Journal of Mental Health explains that domestic violence and abuse has increased by up to 36% in some countries, and Google search for domestic violence support has surged by 75%. Children born into and growing up in these conditions are many times more likely to remain in these conditions, struggle with life-long depression/anxiety, suffer from chronic illness, commit violent crimes, and commit suicide. Adding to the poverty, the UN is now warning of global hunger as millions are now facing starvation with millions more soon to join in the starvation.
As these “side effects” of the treatment (lockdown and restrictions) became evident, the total disease case and death burden decreased, and the health care strain eased, we gradually started to reopen society. At this point, we have learned how to better treat the illness. However, as we started to reopen, we have seen a resurgence in case numbers (as we knew we would). Fear has re-gripped us, and we are now facing another potential lockdown. As some of us struggle for our lives against COVID, some of us struggle for our lives against the efforts to stop COVID. Over the next few letters, let us examine the evidence we have so that we can make our own informed decisions instead of solely relying on the “experts.” And most importantly, let it help us return to decency in how we treat one another and talk about one another, and let it help us return to a sense of normalcy
By PIONEERS MEDICAL CENTER PHYSICIANS AND PROVIDERS
Special to the Herald Times