Don’t let your guard down

The emergence of the COVID-19 virus over the last three months has challenged us to think and act differently as physicians and as a medical community.

The first phase of this pandemic found us actively scrambling to respond to the health needs of our patients while keeping them safe from the virus.

As a medical community we delayed non-urgent care, changed our practices to employ telemedicine strategies, worked together to better understand the virus, and prepared our health emergency systems and hospitals to face the surge of infections most of us feared might be just around the corner. While many of us have friends and family members who have been deeply affected by the pandemic, we have been fortunate here in Chautauqua County to avoid the more brutal aspects of the first wave.

Nevertheless, we remain vulnerable to the inevitable re-emergence of the COVID-19 virus and must be better prepared to protect ourselves. As we reopen our community and economy we need to do so knowing that we can quickly and with precision adjust our approaches to changing circumstances without hesitation or chaos. The next few weeks and months will be different, but no less challenging.

We have learned to be more confident in how we approach the COVID-19 virus — to prevent it, detect it and treat it. As critical supply lines are restored and strengthened, we will need to substantially increase our testing and — when the virus surfaces — be more aggressive in tracing it through contacts to prevent outbreaks.

This highly infectious and sometimes deadly virus will remain a formidable challenge for the next few years and we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. Your medical community will not let down its guard.

First and foremost, we will continue to stay abreast of the best available science and adapt our approaches to give you the best advice and safest possible care. There is no longer a reason to delay your preventive or urgent care. Our health system and emergency services are back “ahead of the curve” and operating safely while retaining the reserve capacity required to respond to the unexpected.

Second, we will work more closely with the stellar community-based organizations we are fortunate to have in our county that care for our most vulnerable citizens. We have already launched a program to ensure that every resident — insured or not, with documentation or not — has access to a physician. Together there is more we can do to coordinate primary care and community support services to those most in need during this continuing crisis.

Third, we will continue to engage and advocate with our elected officials and county Health Department to ensure adequate support for critical public health vigilance functions. These include: a well-prepared and scalable contact tracing program; prioritization of the protection and screening of the ‘sentinels’ of new infections (our emergency, health care, senior care, childcare and other ‘public facing’ essential workers); and the provision of essential technical support to our community institutions and business interests as they resume their daily work while protecting the health of their workers and the public.

As individuals, we cannot let down our guard either.

First, all of us must continue to make sensible social distancing precautions our new normal. This includes wearing a mask in public places as both a precaution and sign of respect for our community. As the summer approaches we will need to be more creative and cautious in our social interactions, limiting our time away from home to safe environments and essential activities.

Second, commuters, snowbirds, vacationers and other travelers must be mindful of the potential risk they pose to family, friends and neighbors. If you are a returning traveler or believe you have had a significant COVID 19 exposure, self-isolate and call your doctor to see if you should be tested, and

Third, improving your individual and family health now is the most significant thing you can do to ensure your resilience to a COVID-19 infection in the future. Don’t wait to better manage an existing health condition or to improve your heart and lung function, your nutrition and your overall stamina. If you haven’t had your annual check-up with your physician, call their office and schedule a visit to get started — either a “telephone visit” or ‘video visit’ or an ‘in-person visit’ as appropriate for your medical concern. There is no longer any reason to delay your care. We are all in this together and each of us has a responsibility and part to play in keeping our community healthy and more prosperous.

Working together, we will certainly prevail.

The Chautauqua Health Network Medical Leadership Working Group includes Wolf-Dieter Krahn M.D.; Robert Berke M.D.; G. Jay Bishop M.D., FACP, FSVM, RPVI; Patrick Collins M.D.; Lynn M. Dunham M.D FAAP; William A. Geary M.D. Ph.D.; Tariq Khan, M.D., FAAP; Elizabeth (Betsy) Kidder M.D., Ph.D, MPH, FACP; John LaMancuso M.D. FACP; Tat-Sum Lee M.D., FACP, FACEP; Lillian Vitanza Ney M. D. FACP, FACC; James M. Sherry M.D., Ph.D.; and James E. Wild M.D., FAAFP.


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