IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLU SEASON (part of the COVID-19 RESPONSE series) by Christan Spires

April 10, 2020

If I had to define the US response to COVID-19, the word would be divisive. From the top down, each level of government has struggled to make timely and effective decisions. Having just started work at a hospital, this situation begged the question: why, in the middle of flu season, in 2020, in a country with as much advanced medicine as the United States has, are we this ill-equipped or prepared to handle a SARS virus?

From the federal level, President Trump’s response to the crisis has been botched to say the least. From calling the virus a hoax to promoting an untested drug for the virus, his messaging has been disconnected with that of the CDC and contradictory to the warnings from those countries that have already struggled with the pandemic.

At the state level, SC Governor McMaster has painstakingly closed category after category of nonessential businesses down, while the majority of the state begs to have a stay-at-home order in place. There have been several governors, particularly NY Governor Cuomo, who have been ahead of the curve in the preparedness of their state, however South Carolina’s governor has been slow to make any real movement throughout the crisis.

On a local level, the only park and facility closures have been the main policy related items I have seen. Unrelated to policy, I have seen that our County Fire-Rescue has implemented different PPE procedures than the hospital or any other local healthcare facility, creating their own shortage of N-95 masks. The CEO of our hospital was approached by the Fire Chief today with this issue and stated that they would no longer be masking patients and would be passing that duty along to the hospital. I feel this could be an ethical issue, but luckily our facility has effectively managed our supply of PPE and has the ability to don all patients coming into the facility even when brought in by the ambulance.

There were a few things that came to mind that were unrelated to government policy, but that I felt were necessary to think about concerning policy on COVID-19.

  • Strategic National Stockpile and the different procedures of hospitals and hospital groups and the usage of PPE. If this is a national resource during the pandemic, shouldn’t we have universal rules for its usage?
  • The knowledge by local governments of their rights to enact stay at home orders. I think that if local governments in SC hadn’t enacted their own orders and instead put pressure on the Governor to enact a statewide order, then SC might not have been one of the last states to do this.

Ending on a positive note, and while it doesn’t have anything to do with government, I think it is important to note the response of the public as a whole (or a majority). Teachers have pulled together online learning for students in just days, stores have created special shopping hours to protect the more vulnerable, doctors are innovating the way we use ventilators, museums have gone virtual, people are sewing homemade masks, patronizing their local businesses in spite of the changes they’ve had to make, and thanking their healthcare workers and first responders. In a very uncertain and often negative time, the public has come together to form their own set of social policies; most of which I hope remain when COVID-19 is gone.

Wash your hands and stay home, people.


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