A pandemic is based on facts. A “panicdemic” is based on fears. We have both with COVID-19.
In August 2009, I keynoted an International Swine (H1N1) Flu Summit in Washington, D.C. I have been asked to keynote an International Coronavirus (COVID-19) Summit in Washington, D.C. this June. I am struck by the eerie similarities and the lessons not learned.
Ironically the major prevention and intervention strategies still remain the same as they were in 2009 (and are in all flu seasons). Wash your hands (for 20 seconds); keep your hands off your face (nose, mouth, eyes); practice social isolation and distance (6 feet); don’t sneeze or cough on people; get a flu shot; if you are sick, stay home; and contact your doctor if you have a fever, cough and/or trouble breathing.
These are still are our best prevention tools.
But times have changed, and we have a new virus with many unanswered, frightening questions about coronavirus transmission and protecting ourselves from a potentially fatal pathogen.
And what about the societal continuity plans to respond to all of the possible ramifications in the real world?
What if you cannot deliver basic life necessities to the masses?
What if the helpers cannot help?
At what point do you take extreme measures that put restricted procedures before people’s lifestyles?
When will the pandemic run its course?
What will be the short-and-long-term economic costs?
What is the role of digital and online learning and teleconferencing? What do we do with our school children today?
There needs to be a voice of cautious reasoning to combat the cries of hysteria.
There are no simple solutions, but there are intelligent alternatives that are being developed as you read this.
Many folks are asking for a conference before June. The need for cutting-edge research and direction are much needed. Unfortunately, there is still much to be learned and too little time. A vaccine is at least a year away.
A conference needs to be based on solid evidence-based research and real-world experiences. Social media, although it can share valuable information is also spreading fears, misinformation and panic.
We need more time to develop tested and proven strategies for containment, mitigation, testing, awareness, education, prevention, and intervention. We need to address the complex issues of continuity of operations, social isolation, emotional contagion, discrimination, the onslaught of misinformation, strategies for the mental health as well as the physical health, and the preventive preparedness strategies that are based on facts, not fears. And how do we deal with the costs of medical care for those most at risk with no resources?
We need to listen to medical infectious disease specialists (such as at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and emergency management experts, not posturing politicians or hawkers selling ineffective cures and gimmicks. Responsible governmental action is paramount. We need to be prepared, not scared and panic.
Hopefully, by June we will have developed some effective strategies and solutions based on the best science and real-life experiences for now and for the unforeseen diseases of the future, which are sure to evolve.
We must make our best decisions today based on our best medical information available and be prepared to adjust to the ever-changing dynamics tomorrow.
Time will tell how COVID-19 will impact the world. Will we learn from the lessons this time? Will we learn to deal with the pandemic or suffer from another panicdemic?
Hopefully, we will have some answers in June or before.
Dr. Stephen Sroka is an internationally recognized motivational speaker, award-winning teacher, author and consultant. He is an adjunct assistant professor in the Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine and was a teacher, coach and member of the crisis intervention team at Cleveland Public Schools from 1969-1999. Sroka presented a keynote address at the 2017 STN EXPO Reno and regularly instructs school transportation professionals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.