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Why we want the public to think we overreacted

This week social media has been awash with posts swinging wildly from one extreme to another. Some are preaching doomsday and others are posting memes about licking surfaces in public in hopes of "catching" a paid 2-week quarantine. At times I've feared I might experience cognitive whiplash from the rapid flip-flopping between successive posts while scrolling my own feeds. In fact, my own viewpoint has changed fairly drastically in the last couple of days after looking at a lot of statistics, and I've now settled on thinking that maybe our best case scenario is for the public, way on down the road, to believe that we overreacted to the virus.


Why would we want the public to think we got something wrong?

Because that means that as a healthcare community, we did our jobs, and did them well.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be educating on #flattenthecurve and appropriate hygiene measures, because I hope more Americans can come to understand the basic tenets of public health and epidemiology. BUT, judging by antivax culture, if the pandemic doesn't materialize into an undeniable, in-your-face, apocalypse scenario like Italy's (which I hope it doesn't!!), many laypersons will chalk up every "extreme" measure we take as some form of propaganda or crisis manufactured for political ends. (Just check out the folks tweeting here only 3 days ago accusing this doctor of fabricating his story about how bad things were in Italy because it wasn't being reported yet - then check out what's being widely reported from Italy now).

That's not directly what we want. Ideally the public would learn from our success, that this is exactly how we contain contagion and we would carry that forward into the future. And perhaps we will, at least to a degree.

But...haven't we all just been talking about fear-mongering in the media?


At least up until we reached the point at which community spread was a reality in the US and containment outside our borders no longer realistic. And there's still a difference in infection control and free-for-all panic.

All I'm saying is that in 10 years, when memes have developed into whatever unrecognizable form they will exist in in 2030, I truly HOPE they are making light of "that time everything shut down for a beer virus".

Because no matter how tempting and comforting it is to compare this virus to the flu or the common cold and say that most people would only experience mild symptoms, as healthcare professionals, we must recognize that "most" of a pie chart consisting of millions of cases still leaves thousands, if not millions, experiencing severe disease or death.

[For anyone not following, or non-HCP readers, this is what I am referring to: ]

Even if we DO just go ahead and compare COVID-19 to the flu, guess what? We really should (as a country) be handling the flu and other seasonal illnesses more seriously anyway.

Have you ever sold Tamiflu to a patient and then cried with them weeks later, because they hadn't known they were sick yet when they went to visit their grandmother at the nursing home, and they felt responsible when she died from the influenza she likely caught from their kiss?

I have.

And yet in the same year I called another patient to inquire about his flu vaccine and was told they are immoral because the vaccine "contains pieces of aborted babies." Even after clearing up the reality of how vaccines are made and what they contain, this patient and many others still decry the flu shot as a useless, immoral, and poisonous money-grab.

So, I wish we took flu and the tens of thousands of deaths it causes each year more seriously. Maybe this is our chance to change American illness culture, though Lord knows we've tried and our laws don't make it easy.

But until laypeople and financially motivated big-businessmen see devastation firsthand, many will never believe that infection control measures are anything more than overreaction. We don't want that to have to happen, so we will just have to settle for their judgement, much as we settle for being degraded as "pro-vaxxer", big-pharma shills every fall.

If you are in a position to make the heavy decisions about social distancing, attendance policies, and virus containment measures, I urge you to consider heavily the human cost of not slowing the viral spread down. It is of course important to consider and mitigate the impact of these decisions, but the longer the window of time we are able to spread the cases over, the better chance we have of providing lifesaving care to every patient who needs it.

As pharmacists and frontline healthcare workers, we have a right and a responsibility to spread GOOD information. We need to advocate for hygiene, preparation, and social distancing, but not panic. We all swore an oath, to "consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering [our] primary concerns."

I'd rather us be condemned for ruining people's fun events, losing businesses money, and delaying academic progress than for giving a deadly virus a platform to spread from.

I'd rather us look wildly silly in 6 months for converting pharmacies to drive-thru only mode than to have a pharmacy that can't effectively provide medications to my community because my whole staff is ill or quarantined.

I'd rather sigh in annoyance now while fighting bureaucracy to obtain 90-day supplies of all necessary maintenance meds for my senior patients than sigh in sorrow in a few months when one of them picks up an illness at the pharmacy just trying to get some metoprolol.

As pharmacists we want to prove our ability to positively impact public health. Let's do that now by advocating loudly for social distancing and reasonable measures that will allow us to do our jobs safely for longer, such as employing drive-thru only modes where possible and implementing other creative ways of delivering pharmaceutical care when the time comes.

Many pharmacists and technicians themselves, including some of my own coworkers belong to at-risk populations. They are wonderful people, who won't want to choose between their duties and their own health and safety. Just as when we talk about staffing issues and workplace burdens, let's focus on making the work environment safer so that we can provide safer, higher-quality care to our patients for longer, AND reduce transmission in high-traffic areas (like pharmacies).

So let's do our best to bear the brunt of the memes in 2030. We can grin and bear it then, knowing we saved lives, even if the public makes a mockery of us.

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