Editor’s Note: Dr. Emily Landon, lead epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, spoke at the press conference on Friday after Gov. JB Pritzker announced the “stay at home” order that takes effect across Illinois Saturday at 5 p.m. Here are her inspiring comments.
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I want to send my sincere gratitude and support to all of the healthcare workers in Illinois and around the world.
Despite doing our best to prepare for a respiratory epidemic, we now find ourselves facing a brand new virus with too little information. Not enough PPE (personal protection equipment), changing protocols every single day, and no second chances.
All of us are united in our efforts and agree with this course of action. We all acknowledge that this is the only way forward.
This virus is unforgiving. It spreads before you even know you’ve caught it. It tricks you into believing that it’s nothing more than a little influenza.
For many of us it may not be much more than the flu, so it can be confusing as to why schools are closed, restaurants are shuttered. And now the virus is taking what’s left of our precious liberty.
But the real problem is not the 80 percent who will get over this in a week. It’s the 20 percent of patients – the older, those who are immuno-compromised, those who have other illnesses who are going to need a bit more support. Some oxygen. Or maybe a ventilator. Life support.
We do amazing things to save patients like this in our American hospitals and across the world every single day.
But we can’t take care of everyone at once, and we can’t keep that low mortality promise if we can’t provide the support that our patients need. Our healthcare system doesn’t have any slack. There are no empty wards waiting for patients, or nurses waiting in the wings. We barely have enough masks for the nurses that we have.
Looking back to the last time we were limited tools, and having an infection spread quickly, was the beginning of the 1918 pandemic. Two cities in America made different choices about how to proceed and when only a few patients were infected. St Louis shut itself down and sheltered in place. But Philadelphia went ahead with a huge parade to celebrate those going off to war. A week later, Philadelphia hospitals were overrun and thousands were dead. Many more than in St. Louis. This is a cautionary tale for our time.
All we have to slow the spread is distance – social distance. If we let every single patient with this infection infect three more people and then each of them infect two or three more people, there won’t be a hospital bed when my mother can’t breathe very well. Or when yours is coughing too much.
In my house we’ve made a lot of sacrifices. We don’t go out anymore. I’m leading our efforts in emergency planning from our home. This isn’t the life any of us expected, and certainly there are others who will make much greater sacrifices.
There are many more disappointments to come. But this isn’t going to last forever. It will last longer than any of us want it to, but in the end we will look back and see it as just a piece of what happened in our whole lives. And we have to remember that.
How can soccer or book club be so dangerous? Why ask so much of people for just a few hundred cases? Because it’s the only way to save those lives. Because the numbers you see today are the people that got sick a week ago.
There are still people today, who got infected today, who haven’t even noticed that they’re sick yet. They picked up he virus and it will take a week to see that show in our numbers. Waiting for hospitals to be overwhelmed will leave the following week’s patients with nowhere to go. Without taking drastic measures, the healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable.
We have to fight this fire before it grows too high. These extreme restrictions may seem, in the end, a little anti-climactic. Because it’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right – nothing happens.
A successful shelter-in-place means that you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing. And you’d be right – because “nothing” means that nothing happened to your family, and that’s what we are going for here.
With a real commitment to sheltering in place and some patience, we can protect our critical workers who need to use public transportation to get where they need to go. We can give our factories time to ramp up production of PPE so we have enough masks to last. And we can make more medication and learn more about how we can use them to save more lives.
Even a little time makes a huge difference. It will take more than a week to start seeing the rate of increase slow down. That’s a complicated thing to say – it’ll take even longer to see it come down and see it slowing and infections going down.
Please don’t give up. I know we’ll get through this together and find a way back to the way we used to live.
Public health and hospitals have been working hard for a long time, and now it’s your turn to do your part.
A huge sacrifice to make – but a sacrifice that can make thousands of differences. Maybe even a difference in your family, too.