Practice Perfect 699
COVID-19: Revealing Strengths and Weaknesses

It’s a very quiet Tuesday morning, and I’m at home with less to do than usual. I’m taking a vacation day from a very hectic work schedule because I was supposed to be flying back from Washington, DC after an ACPM board meeting that was moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak. I can hear my wife downstairs homeschooling the kids.

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At first, I was going to write about medical details of the COVID-19 virus that would be important to providers, but there are so many resources online that this would be a waste of time. By the way, one of the very good sites is John Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). Instead, let’s look from a different angle and discuss some of the effects this evolving disaster has on us.

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Thinking about this brings up the first effect: events such as the coronavirus completely take over our lives to the point that more mundane activities are put aside – as should be the case, of course. We are each going about our activities, unsuspecting that the next day will completely upend our lives. The last time this occurred was during the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. I recall vividly getting dressed for a podiatry rotation in Oakland, California when the events happened. The whole world seemed to pause. The situation today is similar but with a slower pausing effect.

Let’s talk first about weaknesses events like this reveal. Anyone watching the news will see just how unprepared the world has been for this pandemic, and the United States doesn’t seem to be much different. Shortages of N95 masks, surgical masks, ventilators, ECMO systems, ICU beds, and trained staff demonstrate the lack of preparedness. Unfortunately, most countries do not stockpile equipment of this sort between years of disasters. Similarly, the closure of public schools and the challenges feeding kids – especially those in lower socioeconomic situations – reveal the problems using schools to provide healthy meals. This is really a problem of poverty. Some of this is basic human nature – out of sight equals out of mind. If there isn’t a problem today, then we will move our attention and resources to other issues. 

The other major characteristic revealed by this situation is our global interconnectedness. We really are one world where, as a result of air travel, what occurs in Asia may also occur everywhere else in the world within days. In my view, this is a major argument for pursuing all international programs from medical situations to borders to global climate change. There’s simply no point anymore for any country to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

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On the other hand, this situation shows our strengths. The most significant one, as far as I can tell, is the true power of the Internet. Consider just how isolated each of us would be right now without it. Public health agencies wouldn’t be able to announce protective measures, the government would have a harder time communicating, and work environments would be impossible. Television is ok, but the amount of information available at the click of a button is astounding. I have watched my entire university of around 1800 students and 3600 employees move to all-online teaching and administration. Between the use of telecommunications and email our leadership has beautifully coordinated what would otherwise be an impossible pivot to a completely different education method. It’s also obvious that these methods will allow so many more people to remain isolated and virus-free. I remember reading about concerns that the Internet had been increasing social isolation in younger generations. Where in one circumstance this is a problem, a new situation is making this not only an advantage but essential to daily function. 

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Time will tell where all the strengths and weaknesses lay. Just as in war and our travels to space, situations such as this open new opportunities to learn and grow. Hopefully, this pandemic will end soon and with a minimum of suffering. I wish you all a healthy next few months.

Best wishes.

Jarrod Shapiro, DPM
PRESENT Practice Perfect Editor
jarrod@podiatry.com

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