I’ve been a practicing pulmonary and critical-care physician here in Idaho for 21 years. Every year, I see dozens of very ill people.
My clinical colleagues have seen any number of tragic cases and seasonal flu epidemics and provided bedside care during the last pandemic with the H1N1 flu.
We have never seen anything like what we saw play out several weeks ago in the Twin Falls ICUs, as the COVID-19 pandemic came to Idaho, beginning in the Wood River Valley.
Over a period of days, we saw critically ill patients transported to Twin Falls. We saw our ICU capacity in that facility steadily erode. We saw patients diverted to other parts of the health system, we saw care teams struggle to support the number of critically ill patients requiring ventilator support and we saw one intensive care unit become a respiratory unit over a period of about five days.
We saw critically ill people who had to be separated from their families. We saw patients who had to say their final goodbyes via FaceTime.
And we saw our frontline clinicians carry this burden and move on to the next patient and family who needed them.
We’re all caregivers; we don’t give up easily.
We’re not alone, and we understand the pressure that others also are facing. Our elected leaders, for example, have chosen to protect the public’s health under extreme pressure to ease up on safe and practical guidance meant to keep all our friends and family members alive and healthy.
Here are the incontrovertible facts, so far as we know, at this time regarding COVID-19:
It is far more lethal than the flu. It is 50 times more lethal than the flu. This is not the flu.
COVID-19 is no respecter of gender, ethnicity, age, city, county or state of residence or political party. It lies in wait. It likes crowds. It picks on the vulnerable. It waits for us to lose our focus. And then it moves in.
Until we have a vaccine, and more immunity to the coronavirus, our best defense will continue to be a set of simple, basic precautions: Hand washing. Keeping a safe social distance. Covering mouths and noses.
Lifting these efforts too soon will bring us back to where we were a few weeks ago in a very short period of time.
We saw what it can be like. Our story does not need to look like New York’s. But it requires that we respond together, based on evidence.
Your neighbors, who are physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, therapists and other clinicians, are doing their best to fight a threat we all have in common. We stand in support of the governor, of county commissioners, of the mayors of our cities, of university, college and school administrators, of all first responders, of business owners, of every leader, at every level, who is doing the right thing on behalf of all of us.
One of the very best things about living in our part of the country is the scrappy, rugged individualism that has characterized us as a people. It has helped to shape world-class companies. It has powered best-in-class education and health care. It has given rise to a warm and welcoming community.
We’re calling on that spirit of community now. As your doctors, nurses and neighbors, we invite you to join us in supporting our governor, policymakers, business leaders, mayors, heads of our school districts and institutions of higher learning in making extremely difficult choices on behalf of all of us. It is hard enough in the best of times to be a true leader; it has never been more difficult than it is right now.
Dr. James Souza is vice president and chief medical officer of St. Luke’s Health System. According to St. Luke’s this open letter has the support of more than 700 physicians and advanced practice providers affiliated with the organization; it does not represent the position of all providers.