10:01 AM

Adjusting to a New Norm

COVID-19 Perspective – Daily Inter Lake

By Jeffrey Tjaden, M.D., M.P.H., Infectious Disease Specialist at KRH

Every few years an infectious disease makes headlines. Sometimes it’s an older, forgotten disease like measles or whooping cough that re-emerges. Sometimes it’s a new one like SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, MERS 2013, Ebola in 2014, and now COVID-19. During these pandemics, the ever-present emergency preparedness within health care providers is activated. Over the past few months, I have watched our local health system transform from business as usual to a battlefield, fighting a new, unfamiliar, invisible enemy — COVID-19. 

In some ways we’re fortunate that we haven’t had a dramatic number of cases, compared to other states. However, our greatest challenge is that this disease is still here. We’re managing the first wave, but these diseases often come in subsequent cycles. And if we let our guard down, it could get worse.

As health care providers, we have to persist in being vigilant with our processes and procedures. Continued masking protocols, daily distancing, limiting the numbers of individuals in meetings, and screening patients when they come for health care are practices that will be the new norm for the near future. We need to continually advocate for the availability of rapid testing for COVID-19 and procure sufficient Personal Protective Equipment to protect our workforce. 

In some ways this crisis has created an opportunity. Virtual care, often referred to as telehealth or telemedicine, is proving its weight in the fight against COVID-19 — allowing the vulnerable to access care from home, while freeing up resources to address the needs of the most critical patients. While the conditions driving our ability to rapidly expand our virtual care capabilities are unique, the need for more efficient and accessible care will endure long after this pandemic has passed. 

Now, more than ever, our focus on infection prevention is critical. Typically immunizations or directed therapies make this challenge easier, since vaccines are among our most effective strategies to prevent infection. Unfortunately, we don’t have this luxury with COVID-19, and it could be months or years before immunization becomes a reality as clinical trials are in early phases and ongoing. Without a vaccine, we have to think differently about preventing people from getting and spreading the disease.

As citizens, we have to play our part.

Even if we could flip a switch to return to normal, I would still recommend that the community continue practicing good hand hygiene, limiting the number of outings, and consider alternative ways to do everyday activities. Maintaining social distancing as much as possible and protecting our vulnerable populations is essential.

While this has been a tragic pandemic, it has in many ways brought the community together. Eventually we will resume business as usual, but it’s going to be a different business as usual. When we do get to the other side of this — and we will — I believe we will be stronger because of it. 

This article was originally published in the Daily Inter Lake on April 15, 2020.