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Cole: SC cases may peak by early May; Let's plan now for what comes next

Dr. David Cole online (copy) (copy)

Dr. David Cole, president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

This past month has been an incredibly difficult time. As an enterprise, the Medical University of South Carolina has been forced to take hard but necessary actions, and it’s a lot to process, for us and the community. Even in the face of all of this disruption, pain and personal adversity, our team continues to display admirable strength, resilience and focus on the unprecedented journey before us.

The best way to reduce the brunt of these actions for our MUSC friends and colleagues — and to help our community and businesses — is to define an expeditious path back to normalcy that minimizes the economic and personal pain the COVID-19 crisis is having on everyone.

I’ve been heartened to see many editorials, letters and commentaries in The Post and Courier that focus on balancing our public health response to COVID-19 and the equally important need to return to some sort of economic and lifestyle normalcy.

We have appropriately prepared for the days ahead, but it is also important to look further ahead and lay the groundwork for the future.

So far, our MUSC projections, based on local and national modeling, indicate we should fare much better than New York. This is in large part due to state and local actions to implement social distancing strategies. Thank you for this important community sacrifice that helps our first responders and health care providers do their best to keep everyone safe.

We anticipate a peak volume of COVID-19 patients in late April or early May. As we get more precise at our projections, our communities can make better public health and economic decisions about how to navigate the coming months. MUSC soon will launch these lead indicators and specific modeling to give us all a common language and understanding as we move forward.

We are not out of the woods, but there is some emerging light down the path. So how do we move forward?

There are three key needs that we all must rally around: 1) Deploying a strategic, staged revitalization of the economy; 2) being able to quickly test for infection and to identify those who are recovered and immune to COVID-19; and 3) having a system to identify and trace contacts and quarantine individuals at risk.

Our ability to trace and test is crucial to emerging safely from our current reality and regaining a new normal. The balance comes in doing this without allowing a second COVID-19 wave to reverse our efforts to get back on our feet.

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We all look forward to the day when we can sit shoulder to shoulder on a crowded beach or share a meal inside a restaurant, but this will not happen on day one.

We are working with partners across the state to gain the tools needed to enable a successful economic revitalization plan: continuing to ramp up our commonly used PCR testing capability; working on point-of-care serology testing in an intensive effort to understand community prevalence and who has developed immunity to the virus; and identifying and supporting the safe recovery of those who are infected.

Importantly, we need a smarter, ground level, collaborative community contact tracing ability that would help identify individuals who become infected and ensure they remain isolated until they can be tested and reassured they will not cause further spread of the virus. We are working with DHEC and other partners across the state on moving this forward in a more meaningful way for the days ahead.

Now is the time to create the future.

What can this look like? This is my vision: We manage the first wave successfully without overwhelming our health system, get our lives moving back to normal, and be able to handle any secondary COVID-19 impacts in a non-disruptive manner — like a bad flu season. Business is not shut down, and individuals are not forced to stay at home. The cadence of life continues.

We can accomplish this if we continue to move with purpose, together.

Dr. David Cole is president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

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