Coronavirus plea from Johns Hopkins: Please take social distancing seriously to save lives
By Ronald J. Daniels, Paul Rothman and Kevin Sowers
The Baltimore Sun
Over the past few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed life for all of us. As a country, we have taken a series of steps that would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago. Millions of Americans are working from home. Colleges, schools, churches, gyms, libraries, stores and other public places have all suspended operations or gone virtual.
This massive transformation of everyday life has one goal: to decrease person to person interactions, and thus slow transmission of the coronavirus, which is now spreading widely among Americans from coast to coast. Coronavirus is extremely contagious, and social distance can thwart this proliferation: The virus can’t infect those it can’t reach.
Our goal at this point is to reduce the rate of infection, to “flatten the curve,” as it has become known, so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by severely ill patients or the impact on hospital and clinic staffing if our health care workforce becomes infected.
Along with every other health care organization and health department in the country, Johns Hopkins is doing all it can to increase preparedness for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients. Nationwide, we’ve made important progress in this, increasing our supply of beds, staff and equipment.
But hospitals and health departments can’t do it alone. We need everyone to do their part to reduce infection rates.
Many millions of Americans have heeded this message, and are doing their best to self-isolate, minimize social contact and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
But unfortunately, we’re still not doing enough. Too many of us are not taking social distancing seriously. As Maryland Gov.
Larry Hogan pointed out Monday in announcing an order to close most businesses, people continue to socialize, to see friends and relatives in their homes and in the community —behavior he deemed “reckless and irresponsible.” He is right.
These activities may feel safe, but they significantly boost the risk of being infected, and of infecting others. This is a matter of life and death, for all of us.
Right now, social distancing is indispensable.
Because we don’t yet have a treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19, social distancing is one of the few effective tools we have right now to reduce the risk of widespread transmission.
Social distancing is especially crucial because with COVID-19, many infected people have no symptoms, so they don’t even realize they are spreading it. In this way the virus spreads invisibly, widely and exponentially.
Compared to other viral diseases such as seasonal influenza, COVID-19 has a high fatality rate.
Many experts say that without strict measures to limit the spread of the virus, between 100 to 150 million Americans could eventually be infected.
For older people, the risk is significantly higher, especially for people with chronic illnesses. And there is growing evidence that younger adults can also become seriously ill.
Of course, we don’t want everyone to practice social distancing. Doctors, nurses and other health care workers, as well as police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers and others, must continue to have close contact with the people they serve. The importance of their work supersedes the need for isolation. But for everyone else, strict social distancing is crucial.
We understand that social distancing is a major disruption, socially and economically. It’s also hard to grasp what it’s accomplishing, because un with a hurricane or a terrorist attack, there is little obvious evidence that anything is wrong.
We are only at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
, and what we do now will determine whether we suffer a worst-case scenario in which disease rates spike and a flood of severely ill patients overwhelms hospitals.
Avoiding that will require systematic coordination between the public and private sectors, far beyond anything we have attempted. It will also require millions of individual Americans to change their behavior.
So what can you do? Here’s a summary. Avoid groups and mass gatherings. Keep a 6-foot distance from other people, no hugs, no handshakes. Especially if you’re over 60, stay home and avoid other people.
Realize that if you break these rules, if your children or your parents break these rules, they are almost certainly exposing themselves, and whoever they are living with, to a wide swath of other people that they, and you, don’t know.
Following social distancing rules will not be easy. It will not be fun. We can guarantee that. But we can also guarantee that it will help save lives —perhaps many, many lives.
Ronald J. Daniels (email@example.com) is president of Johns Hopkins University. Paul Rothman is dean of the Johns Hopkins medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Kevin Sowers is president of the Johns Hopkins Health System.
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Everyday People: Whitlock, once homeless, heads to Johns Hopkins University
There are many emotions that come with hearing your 2-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
But one that Cortnee Whitlock remembers most viscerally is the feeling of frustration. Appointment after appointment, she often felt confused and dismissed by the people in charge of her daughter’s care.
When tests were run, the results were rarely explained in a way she could understand. As someone who dropped high school as a sophomore, comprehending medical and health insurance terminology was overwhelming and difficult.
“It was so frustrating feeling there were no answers,” she said.
So Whitlock decided to join the quality improvement committee at her Portland-area hospital, hoping to offer feedback and help bridge the communication gap between patients and the medical community.
“I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “I already know what it’s to be the mom with a kid with (a) chronic illness and not have support.”
Ten years later, Whitlock has transformed her passion of advocating for families and patients into a career as a patient experience coordinator at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. In the fall, she will begin her master’s degree studies in patient safety and health care quality at Johns Hopkins University.
“My hope is to be a national leader in how health care can work,” she said. “There’s room for great improvement in reforming policies.”
Whitlock feels honored to be serving in the position she does, but is sometimes in disbelief given where her journey began, she said.
At 7 years old, Whitlock was diagnosed with epilepsy. The condition delayed her learning abilities, which led to her falling behind in school.
“Whether it was sounds or lights or stress, I had a hard time processing … those sensitivities,” she said. “It’s a computer acting up. My body would shut down and restart. I basically needed to reboot my brain.”
Mix poor performance in school with typical teenage rebellion, and the dynamics for family tension were born.
One day, the tension came to a head, when her parents received a notice that she had ditched school for the morning. The fight ended in a physical altercation, and at 16 she decided to pack up some of her things and leave her Northern California home.
At the time, it made more sense to leave than try to express what was bothering her to parents who she felt weren’t going to listen, she said.
“I run away from (situations) I realize I don’t have control over,” Whitlock said. “That’s definitely a life theme.”
At first, Whitlock found stability. She got a job busing tables at a golf course. She lived with an elderly woman, and in exchange Whitlock was her caretaker.
But shortly after, her housing situation became upended and she became homeless. For a year, she lived her car and got ready for work in the bathroom of a Burger King.
“At first I thought it was an adventure,” she said. “But by the third or fourth night, you feel so alone and worthless. , what has possibly gotten me to the point where I can’t find decent shelter for myself?”
Whitlock eventually drifted to San Francisco, where she began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. She fell into a hard-partying lifestyle, which at times she subsidized by dealing marijuana.
One day, she got a tip from a friend that the police were looking for her. She took the moment as a wake-up call and decided to pack her bags and move to Wyoming — the last place she remembered feeling normal in her childhood.
“I knew I needed to start over,” she said.
Whitlock moved in with her brother, where she found structure in acting as a nanny to her nephew. She sobered up, and eventually decided to enroll in massage school.
But while she was traveling to Arizona, Whitlock made a stop in McMinnville to visit an old friend. She fell in love with Oregon and decided to stay — for the next 20 years.
“I went back to ‘What am I going to do?’” she said.
She signed up with a temp agency in Salem, doing an assortment of administration jobs, hopping around friends’ couches and hotel rooms.
“I tried really hard to not go back to sleeping in my car,” she joked.
At one of those jobs, Whitlock met the man who eventually became her husband. They had two children before divorcing five years later.
Back to school
The separation added another layer of complication to taking care of a child with a chronic illness. After her experiences with her daughter’s care at the hospital, she decided it was time to go back to school.
But during her placement exams, the effects of dropping out at 16 were starting to sink in.
“To realize as a 25-year-old my English comprehension was that of a sixth-grader was a big blow … but also very motivating,” she said.
She eventually transferred from Portland Community College to Oregon State University, splitting her time between school and working as a certified nursing assistant.
Seven years later, she had her bachelor’s degree in human development and family science.
“It took me a long time to convince myself I was worthy of doing that,” she said.
After graduating in 2016, Whitlock saw the job posting in Astoria, and decided to make the leap. She now works as the liaison between the medical staff and patients she wishes she would have had 10 years ago.
“I feel very honored to have the position I have,” she said.