Let’s review the initial response to the first wave of coronavirus by hospitals, city and state governments. Hospitals cancelled elective cases. Cities and states ordered a shelter in place order, shut down restaurants and closed parks and beaches.
These techniques were able to mitigate some of the worst predictions. 100,000 deaths instead of 2 million deaths. The healthcare system was not overwhelmed as it was in Italy. We should consider these results a success. However, aside from expected economic consequences, there are unanticipated consequences of shutting down our communities. Those of which will become clearer in the weeks and months ahead.
As we navigate this post-COVID world, we will carry forward some best practices. But we’ll also learn what we can not do during the next, new surge of coronavirus cases.
New surge of coronavirus: what’s not going to happen
As we well know, hospitals became solely focused on the coronavirus. Entryways required screening of every healthcare worker. Visitors were not allowed to be with their hospitalized loved ones. All elective cases were cancelled. Aside from the economic damage, this created a backlog and delay of care. Regular screenings were also delayed. This affected the timely diagnosis of cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
In a recent NY Times op-ed, the CEO’s of Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic paint a very disturbing consequence of delaying care for non-covid patients. Across the country, there was a sizable decrease in new cancer diagnoses (45 percent) and reports of heart attacks (38 percent) and strokes (30 percent). Cancer, heart attacks and strokes were/are still occurring. They just weren’t being addressed in a timely manner. This means there will be many preventable deaths in the coming months.
In the case of cancer alone, the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic calculate there could be a quarter of a million additional preventable deaths annually if normal care does not resume!
That means, even if there is a new surge of coronavirus cases, hospitals can’t stop screenings. They won’t stop elective care. Aside from saving patient lives, forging ahead with routine care will save the hospitals economically. This doesn’t mean they’ll dismiss the seriousness of the coronavirus. It means they will incorporate what they have learned during these last several months with testing and screening and perform those duties in parallel with non-covid care.
What cities and states won’t do during a new surge of coronavirus
Because of the economic devastation, cities and states won’t be able to shut down economic activity as they did previously. Just as the hospitals learned how to mitigate coronavirus cases and forge ahead, communities will have to do the same.
They will not shut down restaurants. They will instead encourage limiting capacity of patrons dining in and encourage takeout and delivery. The self care industry like barbers and nail salons will not shut down either. Everyone will continue to wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing amongst other customers while getting their hair cut or nails painted.
In other words, a new surge of coronavirus is inevitable. But the political will and public cooperation for a complete shutdown is not. We can’t afford it as a country and citizens won’t tolerate it. However, that doesn’t mean everything will proceed like “normal.” We will all take what we learned during the pandemic and apply best practices to our daily lives, while also continuing with our daily lives. A complete shutdown is not in our future, even if a surge is.