By Kevin O’Dowd and Anthony Mazzarelli
The current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has unfortunately become all-consuming in our daily lives. It is natural to feel a sense of fear and anxiety when we are dealing with the unknown. There are a number of coping mechanisms when faced with this type of uncertainty. We encourage you to focus on facts as well as things that are in your control. Since we have some expertise in dealing with major crises and health care, we wanted to share our perspective to help our fellow New Jersey residents cope with COVID-19.
So what do we know about COVID-19? According to the CDC, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus in the United States is still low for most Americans. This risk will likely increase. Measures being put in place to limit large gatherings of people, however, are designed to moderate that risk of exposure to many people who otherwise would have been exposed over the next few months. These types of mitigation efforts could limit a sharp spike in the number of people infected. A sharp spike could overburden our health system.
We also know that infection from COVID-19 and other viruses are preventable by washing your hands, not touching your face, and protecting others by sneezing or coughing into a tissue or your sleeve.
Lastly, we also know that for generally healthy people, illness from COVID-19 is not very serious. It is, however, serious for older adults and those with certain chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, we have to look out for our family, neighbors, and friends.
Most importantly, we also know that the people of New Jersey are strong, and while we can often be ferocious, we pull together as a community during times of crisis. We did it during Superstorm Sandy, and we will do it again now to help each other get through the COVID-19 outbreak.
Here are some practical things to think about as this situation continues to evolve.
This might sound odd at this time, but we also recommend being thankful. We, in New Jersey, are blessed to have access to the best health care professionals, researchers, and health systems in the world. Our healthcare community is working diligently to protect you from COVID-19, treat you if you are infected, and researching treatments and vaccines to fight the virus.
You can also be thankful that New Jersey’s health care community is filled with leaders who are genuinely committed to caring for others. Health care leaders across New Jersey have already come together, and we are working with each other to prepare ourselves to protect and treat the state’s residents.
We are speaking daily to our counterparts in health systems across the state and sharing best practices, coordinating responses, and brainstorming ideas. The cooperative response from our colleagues and state, county, and local health officials during this time has been truly encouraging. We are determined that our response to this crisis will be exceptional and that we will successfully treat the sick and protect the healthy.
Another practical way you can help during this outbreak is to check on your family, friends, and neighbors who are health care workers. With a number of schools deciding to close, health care workers – who are fully committed to caring for patients – may soon find it more difficult to do so because their children are now home. If you are now home or your teen-aged or college-aged children are not at school, offer to watch health care workers’ children. This will allow them to be at work to care for patients and keep our state’s health systems operating at full capacity.
Lastly, we encourage you to reduce your own anxiety by putting down your phone and turning off your TV. While we encourage you to continue to stay fully informed, constant focus on the breathless media coverage of the outbreak will only increase worry and stress, which is not helpful. Go outside and take a walk with your family. Encourage your children to play outside. In addition to reducing your anxiety, the exercise will keep you stronger to fight off infection.
We will get through this together. Take practical steps to help each other and, if you can, reach out to the health care workers in your life and ask what you can do for them. They will appreciate it, and you will be helping keep our health system strong.
Kevin O’Dowd, JD, and Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli are Co-President/CEOs of Cooper University Health Care, a leading academic health system. Mr. O’Dowd served as Chief of Staff to Governor Chris Christie in the lead up and immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Dr. Mazzarelli is an emergency medicine physician who led one of the first medical teams on the ground in Haiti after its devastating earthquake.