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Imagine having a new baby who was born sick or premature. This could be your baby or your newest family member. They are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) fighting to survive. They have tubes and lines in places Mother Nature didn’t put there. You feel helpless.
Now imagine you can’t visit them. As of Thursday morning, more than 68,500 cases of COVID-19 and at least 990 deaths have been reported in the U.S., according to the New York Times. As a physician on the front lines, let me assure you this is NOT hype or overreaction; this is real.
It is so real that NICUs may be faced with closing to the most consistent people in their baby’s lives, their mothers and fathers. Mothers delivering at term who have or are being tested for COVID-19 are separated from their babies to protect the newborn.
COVID-19 is serious and deadly. Even if you are young or otherwise healthy, you are still at risk of transmitting COVID-19 with or without symptoms, and your actions can increase the risk for others.
“Flatten the curve” means we must slow the spread of coronavirus to a rate that the health care system can handle. We do not have enough tests and results don’t return fast enough. We do not have enough hospital beds, isolation rooms or breathing machines (ventilators), for all the people who are going to need it.
We do not have enough personal protective equipment or hand sanitizer for health care workers. Patients and health care workers are dying. What if it was you or your family member was the one who didn’t have the medical team or supplies to care for them?
This is a novel coronavirus, but we have seen it play out on a global stage. While the elderly are the highest risk, don’t forget the immune compromised neonatal, infant and chronic pediatric populations. Healthy young adults are dying, too.
We need everyone, despite their personal risk, to follow the recommendations of CDC and WHO to slow the spread of COVID-19 to help those that are at highest risk.
Here are key things you can do:
• Stay home. Stay social using virtual connections to support vulnerable or isolated neighbors, friends and family.
• Follow guidance from CDC, state and local health authorities.
• Share accurate information and advice from credible sources like CDC and KDHE.
• Avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. Stay 6-8 feet away from others — for as long as it takes.
• Practice good hand hygiene. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Avoid touching your face.
• If you feel sick, stay home. Symptoms of coronavirus include feeling short of breath, cough and fever. Call your physician rather than just showing up in the urgent care, ER or clinic.
• Think of others, consider your actions and be kind.
So next time you are making a decision against the advice of public health experts, think about what it would mean for your grandparent in the retirement home, parent with heart disease, sibling on an immunosuppressant medication, pregnant co-worker, the child down the street with leukemia or the baby in the NICU.
Wouldn’t you take every measure to protect them?
Do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19. The health of all of us depends on you and your choices.
Dena K. Hubbard, MD, FAAP, is the public policy chairwoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kansas Chapter.