“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds.”
And so, the second wave of COVID is upon us. As I write this, roughly 1,000 Americans a day succumb to the virus. Somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s uncle, a sister, a father. A loved one takes their last breath on a ventilator, soon to be moved to a body bag, to a lonely funeral over the internet. Every 90 seconds, give or take, this happens to an American. And this time, Vermont hasn’t dodged the bullet. The Green Mountain State hasn’t seen numbers like this since early April. Vermonters are again dying from COVID. That hasn’t happened since July.
Together we stood on the beach, watching the tidal wave rushing in. Now it has overtaken us. Rolling and tossed, we wonder when our heads will pop up for air.
To date, the Vermont Department of Health has performed admirably. Sources of COVID have been ferreted out and extinguished, and so we have enjoyed relative safety. But now schools are back in session, colder weather brings us indoors, and families and friends across the nation plan to gather for Thanksgiving in two weeks. This is a time of tradition, of togetherness, of community. These values bind us together and facilitate activity of healing and fulfillment. But this is 2020. So now, what was once healing, threatens to harm. If, in two weeks, thousands of Vermont families choose to bend the rules—even just a little—we will suffer.
COVID is a virus. It invades a cell, and it does not differentiate between a niece or a grandmother, between an uncle or a passerby in the grocery store. Family and old friends traveling from afar are not safer simply because they are family. Familiarity does not reduce the risk of COVID. Social distancing and masking do not occur around a holiday table, and a crowded holiday table is not safe. If thousands of us all bend the rules at once, because it is Thanksgiving, this will not be another barely contained outbreak. This will not be limited to migrant farm workers or friends gathering for a sporting event. It will affect all of us to an even greater degree. Cases will surge, and there will be a toll.
There is a tendency among the younger and healthier to imagine that there is little price to be paid by ignoring COVID precautions. Therapeutics are better than they were, and mortality for the young was quite low to begin with. So why worry now? Again, I say, we must not think of only ourselves. As a community, it is all of our responsibility to consider each other. We do so daily when we observe traffic laws and respect property boundaries and other social niceties. We consider each other and restrict our own activities for community benefit.
Importantly, physical health is not the only consideration. If cases escalate uncontrolled, we can fully expect state government to take more and more definitive action. Those at the helm in our state have not been prone to sit idly by. Action is to be expected, and action will come in the form of increasing restrictions to our daily lives, our personal freedoms, and our business activities. Just this week, travel has again been restricted. On this path are mandatory distance learning for schools, business closures, restaurant closures. Massachusetts has instituted a coronavirus curfew. None of us wants these things, and the economic impact may be as terrible as the medical. Our children do not thrive in isolation. Our nursing-home residents are locked away. All of us will pay a price, even if we do not require hospitalization.
Before I leave you, I want to highlight that all is not doom and gloom. A vaccine rapidly approaches and early reports are extremely promising. The scientific community has responded to the challenge, and we draw nearer and nearer to the light at the end of this long and dark tunnel. But, until that time, resisting COVID fatigue—resisting complacency—is our responsibility. Hold fast. We are Vermonters, and we can do this.
Joshua T. White, MD, MBA
Chief Medical Officer