US economy

7 Medical Leaders to Politicians: Save Lives, Not Wall Street

I’m writing on behalf of six other leaders of large academic health systems in some of America’s Covid-19 “hot spots” to urge our national leadership to resist pressure to lift tough social restrictions intended to subdue this outbreak and save thousands of lives.

While some say the economic damage of these measures will cause more harm than the disease itself, these steps will actually ensure our economic health, since commerce cannot thrive until we have substantially contained the virus.

If we waver in our commitment to the public health, the consequences will devastate our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors, medically and financially.

The statistical modeling of the viral spread is highly predictable, locally and globally, as the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map shows. Each of us has run best- and worst-case scenarios based upon the number of infected patients we have, the doubling time of viral spread, and the predicted number of patients who will be admitted to hospitals and require an intensive care unit and a ventilator. For example, if today we have 25 Covid-19 patients in the hospital, with two in intensive care and one on a ventilator, the model predicts that with a three-day doubling rate, there will be a surge of about 800 I.C.U. patients in 30 days.

The most important way to prevent an uncontrolled demand for hospital care is to slow the spread of the disease, lengthening the time it takes for infections to double.

Proper hand washing, disinfecting common areas and coughing into elbows are important. But physical separation is the best way to slow the spread. The fewer contacts, and the greater distance between people, the better. That’s why nonessential businesses need to be closed, especially in outbreak areas. This virus is spread person to person and it spreads explosively.

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By acting now, we can buy time to amass resources, devise strategies to rebuild our health system and our economy, and develop treatments, vaccines and, ultimately, population herd immunity.

If we don’t, hospitals will be stretched beyond their capacity. In Italy and China, the health care providers were disproportionately infected because of their brave work on the front lines. When hospitals are short-staffed and undersupplied, we cannot save lives. We are setting up tents in the streets and preparing to reopen old hospitals to prepare for the predicted surge of patients if this viral spread goes unchecked.

We know the costs of social distancing are profound — these steps are rewriting the way we bond with friends and loved ones, the way our children learn, the way we work together in jobs of all kinds. But physical isolation does not have to mean total isolation.

Call your friends. Use social media. Spend time with family within your household. When you go out for essential reasons such as food, supplies and medicine, be smart about your distance from others and sanitize your hands before and after handling items.

Our doctors and nurses are ready to care for you. Our research teams are constantly working to find new treatments. But they need your help. Be a health care hero by respecting these recommendations for conscientious and sustained physical isolation.

The cure is not worse than the disease. Our country has made strides to enforce social distancing and this is not the time to let up.

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The job before us as health care workers is clear: Save lives. Please, help us ensure that we can.

J. Larry Jameson is dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this in collaboration with Gianrico Farrugia, president and chief executive of the Mayo Clinic; Robert I. Grossman, chief executive of the NYU Langone Medical Center and dean of the New York University School of Medicine; Sam Hawgood, chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco; Paul Klotman, president and chief executive of the Baylor College of Medicine; Paul Rothman, chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Peter Slavin, president and chief executive of Massachusetts General Hospital.

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