My wife often teases that social interactions are my lifeblood. Some of my happiest times are spent at large social gatherings, bouncing from conversation to conversation and connecting with as many humans as possible. Our current state of affairs has been hard for me. It has been hard for all of us. I feel socially starved and at times, empty. I desperately want the world to be a safe and social place again. I see COVID-19 testing, along with proper Covid hygiene, as critical steps in the restoration of the human connection and an expeditious return to normal.
After thirty minutes and countless heroic procedures, I called the time of death. As I stepped out of the room, I was greeted by a nurse in full PPE who helped me remove my respirator, gown, and gloves safely. I took a few steps over to the sink to decontaminate. Adrenaline still coursing through my veins, I took time to focus on this simple but critical task of cleaning my hands. A quick meditative moment was gently interrupted by our social worker, “The patient’s loved ones would like to speak to you and are waiting in the family room.”
I walked down the hall and entered the room. We were all masked. Humanity was masked, except for the eyes. The eyes of that family betrayed their sorrow as I explained what had happened. Tears flowed. Soft sobs became audible. Coronavirus had laid siege to this family and I could not offer a hug; I couldn’t even show my face. Guilt hung heavy in the room. The family perseverated on what they could have done differently. Should they have tested before seeing their vulnerable family member. Could her illness have been prevented? These tragedies and personal misgivings gnaw at families every day and in all corners of our country and world. The power and responsibility to fight this invisible foe lies within every individual, and early and frequent testing is one of the most powerful defenses.
Getting tested for COVID-19 is important to protect you, your loved ones as well as our greater community. If you personally test positive for COVID-19, it is important to be mindful of shortness and breath symptoms and severe fatigue. When afflicted with these manifestations of disease, you should seek in-person medical attention to prevent disease progression, and ameliorate suffering as well as disease complications. In addition, testing positive for COVID-19 must inspire you to self isolate. This is a potent tool to protect your family and close contacts from contracting this disease. From a community standpoint, broad testing is one the foundational legs supporting our nation and world’s recovery. Testing the community directly decreases the spread of COVID-19 by identifying people with positive infections, instructing them to isolate and identifying their exposures (ie. contact tracing). This process stops COVID-19 patients from spreading disease to others. As the spread slows and the ill recover, the absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases go down. This means less sick and dying individuals, less hospital resources used, less restrictions on business operations and ultimately a more expeditious recovery to pre-Covid times.
The pain and suffering associated with the COVID-19 era has been profound. With COVID-19 infecting over 6% of our population in the United States, the direct medical impacts on individuals we know personally and on our frontline workers is obvious. However, the heartbreak of social isolation has affected at least 10x as many Americans. Testing can help. In the short term, if you can self-quarantine, and during this time obtain two negative COVID-19 tests, the odds of having Coronavirus become extremely low. This drastically lowers the risk of spreading infections when spending time with vulnerable family members. To lower this risk further, spend social time outside, and with masks on.
Over the next few months, testing will slow the spread of COVID-19 and effectively lower the number of cases nationwide and within our communities. This makes contracting the disease less likely. At this point, group socializing will still be restricted but masked, physically distanced outside gatherings will become progressively safer. Finally, as we near completion of the current vaccine rollout and vaccinate an overwhelming majority of our communities, herd immunity will be achieved. At this juncture, testing will serve to instruct any positive individuals to self isolate, and in conjunction with a vaccinated population, larger scale social activities will become possible. Social isolation will continue to evaporate.
While testing is critical and central to recovery, it is not a sufficient defense on its own. It is essential to understand that a negative test represents a single moment in time. If you were to leave a testing center and quickly become exposed to COVID-19 by not adhering to physical distancing and mask wearing, the negative result could be very misleading. Additionally, each test has a false negative rate, meaning that in rare circumstances, a patient may come back negative for COVID-19 on the test, but still be truly positive for the infection. Unfortunately, there is no perfect test, and there are no perfectly safe sets of behaviors. However, responsible behavior and appropriate testing can synergize, drastically lowering the risk of personal infection and disease transmission. Be sure to incorporate hand washing, physical distancing, masks wearing, and testing into your routine to provide self and community protection. Performing these acts diligently is the ultimate service to you and your community.
Normal is coming, but for a time it will be a new normal. This new normal will include frequent mask wearing, COVID-19 testing, vaccine passports and other safety precautions to keep a languishing virus at bay for at least the next 12 months. Our businesses will be able to fully open with COVID-19 precautions in place. Social gatherings will resume, but gingerly at first. Most importantly, spending time with friends and extended family will become increasingly safer. This is a different world than we remember before the pandemic, but it will be a world with less social starvation, financial hardship and fewer medical catastrophes. Patience and discipline will be critical. With continued commitment to personal hygiene, mask wearing, vaccines, and testing, our communities, country and world will emerge stronger than before. The light at the end of the tunnel continues to brighten.