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Opinion: Use proven tools to fight against COVID-19 to protect us all

Bobby Mukkamala

Health care capacity is once again being stretched because of COVID-19.

That’s why I’m writing on behalf of the Michigan State Medical Society, and the 15,000 Michigan physicians and physicians-in-training we represent — and why I’m encouraging you to continue going that extra step to protect your friends, family members, neighbors and yes, even local physicians and frontline health care workers.

Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Cover your coughs and sneezes. If you are around other people who don’t live in your household, wear a mask. 

We need your help now, because if we aren’t careful, things will get worse, Mukkamala writes.

Not because someone in state government told you to. Not because physicians and public health officials recommend it. Not because you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Governors, legislators, and health departments can help by establishing data driven policies and serving as great examples, but they can’t make our choices for us. That responsibility is much more personal.

We need your help now, because if we aren’t careful, things will get worse. That’s not a political statement — it’s just the math.

This last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported the highest single-day total of new positive test results since the pandemic began in March.

It can’t be dismissed as being due to more testing being done. More people are getting sick. Hospitalizations are up more than 80% in recent weeks, and deaths are rising again, too. Nearly 4 out of every 5 adult ICU beds in the state is currently occupied.

We need to be completely honest about other risks associated with this virus, and that means understanding that they go beyond the health effects associated with contracting COVID-19.

The predicted skyrocketing rates of suicide, depression, substance misuse, and domestic violence are additional tragic consequences of our battle with COVID these last eight months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between the end of January and the start of October, there were roughly 300,000 more deaths in the United States than during that same time period the year before. About 200,000 of those deaths have been directly attributed to COVID-19, and the other 100,000 might as well be for the reasons listed above.

In other words, for every two individuals who lose their lives to COVID-19, another of our uninfected loved ones dies from another cause that may be connected indirectly to the virus. 

That’s important, because with hospital beds filling up again, and ICU capacity dwindling, hospitals and health care systems have less space and fewer hands to meet other needs. The higher the COVID-19 numbers go, the harder it is for health care workers to treat other conditions and the less likely it is for those struggling with other conditions to seek treatment.

Michigan’s physician and health care community read the numbers, and we see the people behind them every single day. We help them battle the virus and we comfort fearful and mourning family and friends. Often those victims include our own friends and colleagues, who contract the virus while they help others overcome it.

Political rancor is at an all-time high, especially because it’s election season. The health of our communities should be a separate conversation guided by science and compassion.  

The good news is that each of us can choose to use the proven tools and tactics that can make a real difference and limit the spread of the virus. Michigan physicians are asking for your help. Now more than any other time since the pandemic started, we need it. 

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, M.D. is president of the Michigan State Medical Society.