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The media right now is reporting the division of “sides” people are taking when it comes to the pandemic. Political agendas are pervasive and infiltrate people’s thoughts around COVID19. I see it every day in online groups I’m in; I’m sure you do as well. As a physician, I think it’s really important that you have facts the newspaper or media may not report. Our focus seems to be on two key numbers that are driving our behaviors around COVID19:

  1. The positivity rate, or the number of positive tests that come back, which is an indicator of the spread in our community.

  2. The death rate, or how deadly the virus is in our community.

While these are important numbers to gauge how we are doing, they definitely don’t describe the main impact of the virus, something that we as physicians deal with every day. I keep hearing things like “the death rate is at 1%, so why should I wear a mask?” Or “Why can’t we let kids go back to school without any thought of a change of behavior?” If you find yourself thinking these things, you probably don’t know the reality of the impact in our community of the coronavirus.

There are thousands of problems, loss, illnesses, and injuries that live between a positive test and a death rate in a person infected with coronavirus. In medicine, we call this morbidity. It’s the bread-and-butter of what we do every day. It’s what requires millions of dollars worth of healthcare every year in our country, hours of labor and lost wages, destruction of families income, grief, and despair. What’s hurting our economy just as much is morbidity.

To us who work in healthcare, the morbidity of disease is what we focus on.  Between a positive test and a death rate, there’s a host of things that the coronavirus does every day to people in our community. It is causing blood clots, forcing people to be on blood thinners and have high-risk procedures, and sometimes lose limbs. It causes strokes, in people who wouldn’t normally be at risk for strokes, causing significant loss of their ability to work and care for themselves. It is causing significant respiratory problems that don’t allow healthy people to walk up a flight of stairs. We are learning that the virus is attacking our hearts, causing young people to suffer from heart failure. A recent study showed that even among those with mild disease, almost 60% showed heart damage post COVID19 infection, in which the virus had attacked the actual heart itself unbeknownst to the person who had it. We are seeing kidney problems and respiratory failure causing people to be placed on ventilators. We are seeing people with such extreme fatigue that they can’t go back to work for weeks or even months. You can imagine–simply being so exhausted you can’t work–what that would do to your family. Lost wages. Lost jobs. Stressed coworkers who are now having to pick up the slack. Fewer resources. Loss of ability to take care of your children or teach your children or take care of your elderly parents. The list goes on and on.

You don’t read about all of these things every day in the statistics, because these are not being captured by every health system; we are overwhelmed treating these issues, and also, the media can’t report on individual morbidity for privacy reasons. I want my community to know this. I wish you could see more than a positivity rate or death rate, like I do each day. I wish that all of us would understand the importance of wearing a mask. Because here’s the most important thing: we can actually stop morbidity from rising. We can stop the spread of the virus. It is in our power. Simple, routine actions have the power to allow our kids to return to school, allow businesses to bounce back, and allow us to get back to shopping, eating out, traveling, and all things we love and need.

If we all make things like wearing a mask, social distancing, and not gathering inside in large groups a priority, we can change the course. These simple steps have a massive effect on our future success. And isn’t that what we want? People are going to read this and accuse me of spreading fear. Or politicizing. The truth is, I am not a fearful person, nor do I consider myself overtly political. I am a doctor, and I am an advocate for my community to be healthy. I want to encourage you that it’s within our power and to wear a mask. As a doctor, I feel it is my duty to educate. I’m coming to you from a position of expertise–but also a position of love. Love for you and love for one another.

Please wear a mask. Please help us in healthcare stop this disease.
-Dr. Shillcutt .