With the coronavirus causing school to be canceled, my son brought his schoolwork home. He shared with us a Greek mythology worksheet about Pandora’s Box. If you aren’t familiar, the Greek god Zeus gave a wedding present to beautiful Pandora but instructed her not to open it. Like many of us, impatience and curiosity got the best of her and she opened it anyway which caused a lot of new problems.
Similarly, with COVID-19, this new virus is already out of the box. This is a global pandemic and we are being asked to be patient and conform to social distancing to help slow down the spread. This is our current challenge. Every day we hear about sporting events, concerts, schools, and travel plans being canceled. This is the best-known method to slow the spread of COVID-19. The less we are mixing and mingling, the less the virus is spreading.
When we slow the spread, we give our healthcare systems the best chance at having the resources on hand to keep up with the number of people who need help at any given time. In areas of the world where cases of COVID-19 were allowed to spike, the healthcare systems are overwhelmed. Some hospitals don’t have enough beds, enough ventilators, enough medicine to treat everyone that needs help. They don’t have enough masks and gowns to protect their staff. In these situations, doctors are having to decide who gets treatment, and who doesn’t.
Thankfully, of those who become infected, possibly 80% will have only mild symptoms. Some may not have symptoms at all. However, we need to understand that some will become very sick and some will die. Unlike influenza, COVID-19 is a new virus. Therefore, none of us have immunity from the past or from immunizations. There is no herd immunity.
That is why events are canceled. That is why social distancing is urged. Since most people will only have mild symptoms and some people may not have symptoms at all, the virus can be spread easily without us realizing it. We all need to be patient and follow the instructions from health officials. By doing so, we can hopefully prevent a large spike of a lot of sick people at once and avoid a worst-case scenario.
My son’s main impression from his school lesson was that despite the sickness and problems that were released, Pandora closed the lid and held hope inside the box. I have hope that together we will contain this virus and, in the end, this, too, shall pass.
Andrew Ellsworth, MD is part of The Prairie Doc team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. For free access to the entire Prairie Doc library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on South Dakota Public Broadcasting most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.