As Long as COVID Rages on, We Need to Live Our Lives Differently

Dr. David Lewis, for the Shuttle

I want life to go back to normal.

I want to see the Phillies play, have dinner with friends and see my mother, who has been in lockdown in her nursing home since March.

Going back to “normal” right now is a terrible idea.

As a family physician practicing in Mt. Airy for the past 20 years, I see how this pandemic affects our community, and has affected it more than any other major national crisis I have witnessed. Patients ask me every week why this virus is so different from others, why our lives have to be so upturned. I tell them that we are enduring these disruptions to save lives.

Life is not as disrupted from the flu because of how we manage it. With the flu vaccine, deaths due to flu last season were limited to about 34,000. In just six months, over 218,000 people in the United States have died from confirmed cases of COVID-19. We limit the number of hospitalizations due to flu and can keep hospitals open for elective surgeries and patients with other illnesses. COVID-19, however, has overwhelmed hospitals and our health care system.

Some suggest we follow the public health approach of Sweden, letting the virus “take its course.” This is also referred to as herd immunity, and has been effective with illnesses like Chicken pox.

Like many of my generation, I was purposefully infected with Chicken pox as a child. This was possible for two reasons: 1) children have a low rate of hospitalization or death from Chicken pox, and 2) people who get Chicken pox become immune for decades.

With COVID-19, the hospitalization and death rates are still high. Research also shows that people who have had COVID-19 can catch it again in as little as three months. Herd immunity cannot happen if people can get the disease over and over again. Even Sweden’s Dr. Johan Giesecke, an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization who is often cited as an advocate of herd immunity, acknowledges that a vaccine and viable treatment are necessary components of herd immunity. Unfortunately with COVID-19, we currently have neither.

With regard to the backlash over public health measures such as social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, I understand that masks are sometimes interpreted as signs of danger. I ask, however, that we rethink this symbolism.

Masks are designed for preventing mass spread of disease. They do not make us weak, less capable of independent thought, or even less patriotic. They also do not necessarily make us morally better people. Instead, they signal public awareness of what needs to happen to reduce the rates of COVID-19 transmission.

My goal as a medical provider is for us all to live healthy lives. Reducing the spread of COVID-19 is a health benefit to all of us.

Dr. David Lewis is managing partner at Mt. Airy Family Practice.