The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States may still be relatively low but that number continues to increase day by day, indicating that the virus has not been contained. And because testing for the virus has been incomplete, it is highly likely that there are many more individuals infected than we know.
I am sending this blog out today because I believe we are at a critical point in the course of the COVID-19 epidemic in our country. And we need to work together - urgently - to change the course of this disease.
The most important thing we can do RIGHT NOW is practice “social distancing” which means minimizing interactions with others - regardless of how well we feel. This includes avoiding crowded areas, working from home when possible, shopping on-line or during off-hours, and avoiding all social gatherings.
Social distancing is not just a way to protect yourself – it’s also vital to the protection of everyone else, including those you love. Slowing down the transmission of the virus among people is CRITICAL for the nation as the capacity of the medical system to manage a big surge of patients is limited.
As I write this, medical centers are cancelling elective surgeries to free up capacity and care teams are huddling to make contingency plans. But, as we've seen time and time again for other health issues, prevention is far more impactful than treatment. Countries, like China's neighbor Taiwan, that have practiced aggressive social distancing near the start of their COVID-19 epidemics (which is where the US is right now) have experienced mortality rates of 0.5% related to COVID-19 – as well as much lower infection rates. Countries that delayed social distancing practices, such as Italy, experienced widespread infections and mortality rates closer to 5% - because their healthcare systems got overwhelmed.
Even though I am healthy and feel fine, here is what I (and all the members of my immediate family and our Step One Foods team) will be doing going forward:
- Working from home as much as possible.
- Avoiding all non-essential travel.
- Avoiding restaurants, theaters, gyms and all other places/situations where people gather.
- Shopping primarily online, or during off-hours.
- Keeping at least a 6 foot distance from others when outside the home if feasible.
- Continuing all the cleanliness and personal conduct recommendations outlined in my prior blog.
The above strategy makes sense for all low risk, generally healthy individuals, including children. But there are individuals who are high risk for complications from this infection and they need to do more. High risk patients include those with:
- Heart disease (including prior heart attack, stroke, known coronary or vascular disease, significant valve disease).
- Lung disease (including COPD, chronic bronchitis, asthma requiring regular inhaler use, history of heavy tobacco use).
- Immunosuppression (including those on steroids or other immunosuppressive agents, those with low white blood cell counts, transplant patients).
- Cancer (not cured or in remission).
- Advanced kidney disease.
- Other chronic health conditions requiring ongoing medications and regular medical follow-up.
- Older age (this means 60 years old or older for COVID-19).
At this point, I would advise high risk individuals to self-quarantine until further notice. Not because they are sick but because they need to do everything possible not to be exposed to the virus.
I am aware that my message to you today sounds and is serious - but it’s also hopeful. It is urgent that we all jump on the bandwagon because time is of the essence when trying to contain - or slow - an infection, especially this one. But if we all do this together, we can stop COVID-19 in its tracks while remaining healthy.
This will be hard and will have economic consequences – for individuals and for the country as a whole. But the inconvenience and economic impact of temporary social distancing pales in comparison to the suffering and economic impact of widespread illness.
One last point – it’s easy to forget the basics at times like this, but continuing to support your overall health with good nutrition, exercise and restful sleep is really important. That statement may sound trite in the face of a looming national health crisis – but healthier people are better able to withstand any health threat.
Please consider passing this message and my previous blog about COVID-19 on to the people you know and love. We have to act together. And we have to act now.