Come together to slow the spread

The last time our nation endured a public health emergency was during World War II and the Spanish flu pandemic. Although less resources and aid were available, people got through by coming together. They were encouraged to wear face masks and practice social distancing. Mass gatherings were banned, and businesses were closed. 

This is all similar to what we see today with COVID-19. However, our entire medical profession has worked together, and we have begun administering a vaccine around the world in record time. We are fortunate to have a vaccine so quickly to slow the spread of the virus. At the current pace of development and distribution, we will not achieve herd immunity soon. We need to continue being vigilant, especially this holiday season. Wearing face masks in public, washing hands frequently, avoiding travel whenever possible, maintaining social distancing, [as were] done in 1918, can help us slow the spread and relieve our frontline healthcare workers. 

The County is filled with great people. We all need to come together and think about others when we make critical decisions that can result in a life-or-death situation, and even long-term health implications from the virus that we are still uncertain about. 

I was in New York during the first wave of COVID-19. I remember driving through New York City at the height of the pandemic and donating coffee and doughnuts to the ICU and Emergency Department workers at the Manhattan Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Manhattan VA was working their fourth mission, meaning they were caring for not only veterans, but serving as a backup medical center to civilian patients. The city was a ghost town. The US Naval Ship Comfort was docked at the pier to care for patients who couldn’t be accommodated in hospitals. Ambulance sirens were heard almost every 5 minutes during the brief hour I spent in the city. Not knowing much about the virus at the time, I kept my windows up and wore my mask while driving. 

The next day I received an email indicating how appreciative the staff were. Their 12- to 24-hour shifts were leading to burnout because of not only their occupational demands, but their personal concerns when they left work. Many of them opted not to return to their families after their shifts and stay elsewhere to avoid the spread. I then began to see the bigger picture with people not only getting ill, but the fact that the frontline workers had families of their own and they couldn’t go back home to them like they would on a regular day. 

As we all consider the holidays, we think about food, family, music, and many of us wish for good health into the New Year. Being born and raised in Aroostook County, I can tell you that despite our differences, we are all fortunate to live in great communities where everyone supports each other through the good and the bad. 

As cases in The County increase, it is more important now than ever before to come together and think about our friends, loved ones and fellow residents as we seek to slow the spread. We should also think about our community hospitals, where patients who don’t have COVID need access to care under safe conditions. Telehealth and telemedicine use have increased significantly and are one way to communicate with our providers. Those who need face-to-face visits or have acute medical conditions requiring immediate care need a bed so they can be evaluated and treated appropriately. Masks need to be worn in public. Just think about our frontline healthcare workers who wear them nonstop for 12- and 24-hour shifts, three to five days per week or longer. This is the smallest yet most impactful thing we can do for them and everyone around us. 

As the vaccine begins to be administered, the general population will wait into the second and third quarter of 2021 to receive one. The good news is we are seeing additional vaccines being authorized under emergency use. We are unsure of the efficacy of the vaccine, and length of time the efficacy will last. This is a new virus and we have yet to do extensive research as the data is still being captured by experts. 

Our members of Congress need to step up and push for more vaccines being distributed throughout the state. At the current time, they are ready to go on vacation like most of us. However, the members who care will continue to work through the holidays and fight for Aroostook County to get everyone what they need. 

Let’s take all the precautions through the next few weeks. Reach out to others for advice, check on friends and family, implement a plan if someone in the household is diagnosed with COVID-19, and be sure to stock up on necessary supplies. The best way to spread holiday cheer is by not spreading the virus. Happy holidays to all. 

Andrew Vernon, a Presque Isle native, is a subject matter expert to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Headquarters in Washington. An Army veteran, he president of Andrew Vernon & Associates, a nonprofit for veterans, and a former career employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He received a master of health administration in health policy and management from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. 

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