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Panic and an article saying we are "overreacting"

March 21, 2020


I find two things really difficult to tease out with my emotional state. On one hand, the immediate risk to my wife, daughter, and myself is very low. In fact, it's very, very low. Even in the face of the fact that my wife and I are both ER docs, it's still really low. But, the chance that something bad will happen to the country and to the world is a certainty at this point and gets more cemented with the lack of more widespread shutdowns. It's really hard to feel a sense of emergency for the population and healthcare system and not turn that internally. It's something we need to remind ourselves of every moment. The urgency you hear in my emails isn't for any of us reading this. It is for all of humanity. The panic is for the fact that we have the power to alter the course but aren't doing so quickly enough as a population. So please don't panic about what is going on in your home. Focus on doing good outside of it.

I was forwarded a seemingly well thought out article suggesting that we are all overreacting, and we shouldn't be thinking about a national lockdown. It seemed to say that the economy was more important, the virus was really hard to contract, and it would go away in the summer. It was loaded with stats and figures. I was asked to give my opinion. I won't provide the article any validity by referencing it, nor will I go point by point, but I will say this:

  • Take your advice from epidemiologists and healthcare professionals.
  • Err in the way that minimizes the unnecessary death of people. Physical distancing now will be the way that ensures the least damage to the economy later.
  • We don't have the luxury to do nothing until we have better information. If we did, that would certainly be the best way to go. We need to get a handle on the spread, and then we can sort out which measures are minimally helpful vs absolutely critical. Maximum restrictions (The Hammer) will only be for a short time, and then restrictions will start to ease (The Dance) (see yesterday's email if that reference is lost on you). 
  • The most appalling thing I read in this unnamed article was that 1% mortality isn't very high. 1% of a large number is a very big number and will overburden the healthcare system. Once the healthcare system is overburdened, the mortality of every disease goes up. If we are a decent society, we will try to stop that.   
  • The New York healthcare system is at  capacity already, and there are pockets that are over  capacity (just do a quick google search). They are in the process of running out of supplies and ventilators are becoming scarce. Certainly, by tomorrow or the next, the entire New York system will be at overcapacity. Another way to think about this is to think overcapacity  equals unnecessary death.

Please, please try to limit every possible unnecessary interaction you can. It's such an important way we can support our medical troops and bide time. Time is gold here. The more you can do this, and the more you get others to do this, the better for us all. 

Stay physically distant,