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Commentary: After the wave: Life beyond the inevitable COVID-19 surge

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Dr. David Cole online

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

As president of an academic health sciences center, cancer surgeon, scientist, colleague, husband, father and friend, not a minute goes by that I’m not thinking about the impact of COVID-19.

While it’s not easy to handle the many unknowns associated with this virus, it is imperative to recognize that we, as a local and global community, can and will move forward from this moment. We can find confidence in all the various ways that individuals, families, friends, hospitals and health care systems, higher education institutions, businesses — large and small — and community and state leaders are working toward a crucial common goal: to flatten the curve in South Carolina.

This, rightly so, has been the primary focus of state and local leaders over the last several weeks and will continue to be a priority for the near future. By individuals choosing to follow state and local ordinances, by sacrificing now, we’re giving all health care providers, first responders and our communities a much better chance to overcome the COVID-19 wave heading toward our “beach.”

Each of us must continue to do everything we can to make sure our efforts align with the price being paid by so many people. Our early projections, using MUSC research and disease-modeling expertise, would suggest that we will not fully realize the impact of our current actions for another several weeks.

By then, we’ll know more accurately how much we were able to flatten the curve and deter the spread of this destructive virus. Thank you for what you are doing, which will have a measurable and positive impact on our future.

As we move forward, it is important to understand that we are not just facing one wave, meaning the potential of a surge in COVID-19 patients in our community that leads to overwhelming hospitalizations and preventable deaths. We face a second and equally challenging wave — the immediate hardships and long-lasting ripple effects associated with economic disruptions.

If we don’t stay home now, the health crisis wave will be bigger, stronger and harder to combat. At the same time, a prolonged stay-at-home response will lead to overwhelming long-term economic hardship.

Both can be crippling, and we must balance our approaches to these dual waves. This will require imperfect decisions by our local, state and national leaders based on a constantly changing flow of information. Only by working together intentionally and reassessing the complex and critical issues facing our community will we be able to restore our way of life as soon as reasonable.

We need to seize this moment and define how long to keep our finger on the pause button, then pivot toward medically, socially and economically responsible approaches to normalcy. Accomplishing this reentry into who we are and how we live, as quickly as possible, should leverage the benefits of our current sacrifices and avoid inadvertently destroying the very things we love and value in the name of survival.

We are a community built of strength, resilience, empathy, compassion and intelligence. I believe we can achieve this important balance of pausing to protect against COVID-19 and reengaging to revitalize our economic engine. And in that process, we should offer each other grace and understanding.

MUSC will keep this delicate balance top of mind as we make our own plans, adjustments and changes in the days and weeks ahead. We will continue to collaborate closely with state, local and organizational leaders in all domains to ensure we do our best to provide patients with the care they need, advocate for measured and appropriate public health responses and strive to understand the potential economic effects of COVID-19 and our collective decision-making on the community.

We are working around the clock on the front lines and behind the scenes, at patients’ bedsides, in laboratories, in the community and even at home to minimize this pandemic’s impact throughout the state. I’m inspired every day by our team, and I assure you that the community can continue to count on MUSC’s spirit of innovation, expertise, compassion and willingness to meet challenges head on, facing the wave to come and doing our part to heal the community in the wake of this virus.

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

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