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Staying home is still important

Many of us have officially hit that moment where we’re ready to “get back to normal.” But even though recent models indicate COVID-19 may be slowing across the Midwest, it’s important to keep doing what works — and that means staying home.

I’ve been a physician for more than 20 years, and this crisis is unlike anything I’ve experienced. There is simply no playbook, even as every health system does its best to remain prepared and pivot based on learnings each day. The truth is, viruses occur on their own timetables, with their own rules. COVID-19 is exceptionally challenging due to its highly contagious nature and the fact that vaccines and proven treatments don’t yet exist.

I’m also a father of three, and my wife and I are constantly thinking about the people on the front lines of this fight. For example, our oldest daughter works in a nursing home in Seattle, and I have colleagues across the U.S. trying to figure out how to best deliver care and keep physicians and team members safe.

Here’s what I do know.

In states like Washington and New York, we’ve already seen the devastating effects of what happens when thousands of people contract COVID-19 — it overwhelms the health care system and costs lives. Testing is improving; however, everyone who shows symptoms still cannot get tested. This means that people with mild illness or asymptomatic are still contagious. And without widespread testing data, we don’t truly know how many people are affected. This is the most concerning part for those of us in health care.

But we also know what helps on an individual level, and it involves lessons we’ve been taught since childhood.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

On behalf of the physicians, nurses and team members at UnityPoint Health, we’re also giving you a collective prescription: stay home.

Skip the neighborhood hangout.

Hold off on visiting your elderly parents, grandparents and friends.

Say no to playdates between your children and other kids, and help your teenagers understand why sports, events and other plans are canceled.

Limit outings only for picking up essentials, like food and medicine.

If you must be around other people — and I’m thinking of our essential workers at hospitals and clinics, grocery stores and gas stations and public works — maintain a distance of six feet. (It feels a little strange, but it’s the right thing to do.)

And even though there are still hotspots in our state, staying home is still the number one thing you can do to help change the course of COVID-19. It is the broadest tool we have available to “flatten the curve” and slow community spread of COVID-19.

I get how hard this is. I realize you miss your loved ones and being out and about in your community. But from my lens, the difference between a hospital with enough capacity and resources to fight this fight — and one without — depends on the decisions every individual makes today.

At our organization, we believe in showing people how much they matter. This moment will challenge us, but working in healthcare, we also know this moment is not bigger than us. This is a time for our hearts and humanity to rise up. And if you stay home, we will show up, to do just that.

Every day. For you.

Dr. David M. Williams, MD is president and CEO at UnityPoint Clinic and UnityPoint at Home, which together service as the ambulatory division of UnityPoint Health.

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