While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic came to the United States like a speeding bullet, the hard truth is that our nation was not ready. We squandered our lead time, and our healthcare system is now paying the price. Physicians and other healthcare professionals are on the frontlines putting their own safety at risk taking care of infected patients every day without the necessary protective equipment, and some are dying in this mission. While other countries that have been diligent with widespread testing and more militant about enforcing social distancing are now reaping those benefits, our own nation is not taking social distancing seriously enough, and our federal leadership wasted precious time, alleging that this was a hoax, would go away on its own, and that doctors were overreacting.
When the federal government doesn’t have a comprehensive plan to coordinate a quick response to control this deadly threat to our people, it is time for healthcare workers and scientists to step up and become the force for urgent change. The pandemic has exposed that the biggest threats to our nation’s health and welfare are our lack of leadership and shortcomings in investment and belief in public health and science. Without definite decisions to enforce and advocate for social distancing and flatten the curve coupled with a large skepticism of science, it is not surprising that patients and the public are confused. Given the lack of federal action, the time has come for physicians across the county to use their voices and organize to make a difference in their local states and counties. A group of physicians in Illinois started IMPACT (Illinois Medical Professional Action Collaborative Team) to advocate to state and national officials through coordinated petitions and letters and helped expedite the governor’s plans to close down schools and restaurants and institute a shelter in place order in the state. The group created templates that have been used by healthcare professionals in Iowa to lobby their state as well. Likewise, in Massachusetts more than 1,000 physicians signed a petition demanding greater action on flattening the curve. The national #GetUsPPE movement with local branches aims to bring to light the lack of protective equipment available across the country, with a mission to get this equipment to the healthcare professionals who need it. A petition to support the COVID-19 Pandemic Physician Protection Act (CPPPA) garnered more than 83,000 signatures in 2 days.
It is beyond frustrating that these types of measures are necessary to ensure that the recommendations of national medical experts are implemented. But in this day and age, when the power of social media can give anyone a voice, it is imperative that physicians and other healthcare professionals also use their voices to advocate for the greater good. The power of what one physician’s voice can do is exemplified by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician from Michigan whose research and advocacy exposed the Flint water crisis. We will need many Dr. Hanna-Attishas to effectively combat coronavirus.
For those physicians and healthcare professionals across the country who are not able to serve on the frontlines, you can still have a role shaping the response to this crisis. Become the public voice of science, evidence, and reason in your communities. Use your voices and your expertise to advocate to your local and state government for more aggressive social distancing to flatten the curve, protections for our healthcare workforce, as well as resources to help vulnerable populations who cannot shelter in place. This pandemic will have a lasting impact on our economy, our lives, and our communities. Now is not the time to take a piecemeal approach to mitigate the threat. The faster we act collectively, the sooner we begin to rebuild in a new post-COVID-19 world.